Administrative State • America • military • Post • Technology

Shakespeare at the Pentagon

Scene: A conference room on the 5th floor. Mark Antony rises and moves to the front where a PowerPoint slide displayed on the video wall announces that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has been cancelled.

Friends, Americans, Congressmen, lend me your ears.

I come to bury the Joint Strike Fighter, not to praise it.

The problems complex defense programs face live on in committee reports;

The good is oft interred in appendix footnotes . . .

I speak not to disprove what Critics speak,

But here I am to speak what I do know . . .

The assassination of Julius Caesar, and Antony’s funeral oration, is a compelling story in its own right. Shakespeare notes, however, that it offered a warning to Elizabethan audiences at a time of political conflict and uncertainty. Caesar’s assassins acted on professed motives of saving the Roman Republic, but their conspiracy triggered a civil war that destroyed the republic and brought about the very imperial reign they feared.

Antony’s speech convinced the Roman populace that Caesar’s actions were more complex than mere personal ambition. So, too, issues around the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other defense acquisitions are more complex than cost overruns and claims about capability shortfalls.

What’s at stake is a much deeper issue. How can the U.S. maintain military effectiveness at a time of rapid technological change and the disruption it brings?

We can look back 35 years to another time of rapid tech change to understand why questions around the F-35 program need to be seen in larger context.

On What, And How, To Standardize?
In the mid 1980s, the Defense Department asked an industry group for input on a pressing acquisition issue. Electronics in the form of computer microchips, ubiquitous today, were rapidly evolving. The Cold War was active, the Strategic Defense Initiative sought to anticipate major new capabilities on the part of the Soviet Union and its allies, and existing military planes were quickly becoming obsolete.

During a time of brisk changes in computing electronics, the U.S. Air Force asked, in what ways should it standardize development of avionics, flight control, and similar embedded hardware/software systems on military planes? These systems needed to meet high performance standards that included time sensitive, reliable responses to sensor and other data. What was the best tradeoff between the latest chip technologies and the ability of the defense contractors to deliver needed system capabilities on time, within cost, and with reliable performance?

The small company I was technical director for at the time provided defense contractors the highly optimized software development tools they needed to design, implement, and test embedded software that in turn had to meet those rigorous reliability and performance requirements. The Air Force had previously standardized on a particular 16-bit CPU chip instruction set. The defense contractors were free to implement their own chip designs for avionics and flight control, so long as their chips responded to a standard vocabulary of low level, hardware-oriented computational instructions. Our software development tools translated their code into the detailed hardware instructions that made their avionics and flight control systems function.

Was this, the Pentagon asked the industry group, the best way to standardize as chip technology rapidly changed? Should they relax standards and only require that programmers use a specific high level language (JOVIAL, ADA) and trust that tool developers would translate that code into efficient, reliable executable programs for embedded systems with rigorous performance needs? Should they go in the other direction, and standardize on a specific chip hardware design to be mandated for all embedded systems?

DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, proposed adoption of the then-new RISC (reduced instruction set) chips whose development it had funded. RISC chips can be programmed to mimic other instruction vocabularies and theoretically would allow new and old systems to work together. But that hardware mimicry introduced major uncertainties and time lags into systems that needed to respond rapidly to incoming missiles, evasive maneuvers, and other challenging events.

Ultimately, the Air Force decided to adopt a 32-bit version of its existing instruction set for embedded systems. Chip technology was just too unstable to settle on something new that would require new tool sets, retraining programmers and engineers, new testing regimens, and all of the rest of the scaffolding that goes into system designs and upgrades.

Drowning In Tech-Driven Change
In addition to rapid changes in chip technology, there was another reason to compromise in that mid-1980s Pentagon standards decision. A wide range of tech changes were driving new operational requirements by enabling new opportunities and threats. New digital communications capabilities. New materials for plane construction. New missile and other potential attack capabilities a plane needed to avoid.

In other words, a rapidly evolving, uncertain tech ecology within which US military aircraft needed to function was disrupting military doctrines and strategies, operational requirements, and geopolitical alignments. The operational requirements that military aircraft needed to meet were themselves changing rapidly. Keeping the embedded system chip standard relatively stable made it possible to respond to changing external requirements without throwing aircraft system designs into total chaos.

That decision supported the arms race that peaked in the latter part of the 1980s. Reagan’s defense ramp up achieved its goal: at great financial cost, and with some inevitable program failures, U.S. innovation and determination drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy as it continued to try and fail to keep up.

That wasn’t the only value of the Reagan defense investment. Many key innovations migrated into civilian and commercial use by the 1990s: the internet, for example, whose packet switched approach to communications was originally developed for the Pentagon. Cell phones and the cell telephone system, an outgrowth of military radio approaches. New approaches to designing and building complex software systems that evolved over time into today’s reusable component methods, in which developers construct new websites, e-commerce platforms, and other systems out of standardized pieces rather than hand crafting them. And much more.

The commercialization of technologies originally developed for military use drove a major economic boom for the United States in the 1990s. It also brought major changes to our daily lives. Today you and I use sophisticated radio-enabled handheld computers hosting software that shares data with globally distributed data collections. We call them “smartphones.” And they, in turn, are driving the evolution of artificial intelligence for such uses as real time identification of people based on face, voice, and the way they walk. China is already using this technology for massive surveillance of its population and to enforce politically approved repression of Muslim Uighurs and its Christian population.

Technology has consequences that are increasingly disruptive to societies, economies, and geopolitical alignments. As tech spreads, militarily relevant capabilities spread as well to state and non-state adversaries of the United States. China’s rapid military evolution today started with the transfer of chip and other manufacturing from U.S. companies in the 1990s—transfer that was touted as a key achievement of the Clinton Administration. Along with preferred entry of Chinese students into many U.S. graduate degree programs at universities known for advanced research on behalf of DARPA and other agencies, those policies helped an adversarial nation to become a military near-peer to the United States, and to threaten to surpass our capabilities in the near future.

The Challenge Ahead
Even more disruptive capabilities are on the near horizon. Quantum computing threatens to break data and communications encryption, exposing our most advanced systems to penetration and sabotage. Artificial intelligence enables increasingly autonomous robots, including unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) that can work in concert with and potentially without piloted military planes.

How can our military integrate advanced tech systems like UCAVs into combat and other operations? Effective use of advanced tech systems requires coordination of data, communications, and actions among them, under the control of human commanders at the tactical and operational levels.

And that’s what the F-35 is intended to do. Beyond being a fighter jet flown by military pilots from the different services, with their different missions and training cultures, the Joint Strike Fighter is above all intended to be the coordination platform for sensors, weapons, and communications systems in a given airspace—including future systems not yet designed. Our military desperately needs this capability, and the need will only grow over the next decade or more.

Increasingly, our Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force must work together on short notice in a wide range of operations. Disparate systems make such coordinated deployment difficult. And yet the F-35 has had to fit into existing service-specific environments as the services struggle to adapt to tech-driven changes.

And so we have service variants of the Joint Strike Fighter. And that means more development and more debate around specific parameters for them, and more overruns. Those are real. And they point to a challenge in the overall Defense Department Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) acquisition approach.

JCIDS is intended to reduce development time and expense by targeting shared needs across the various services. But system requirements are intertwined with training, mission approaches, and skills that are often service-specific. Teasing out commonalities and making good cost-benefit tradeoff decisions at a time of major change and uncertainty is not an easy thing to achieve.

Yet the deeper challenge remains. How can the United States maintain military effectiveness in the face of rapid, tech-driven disruption and the emergence of near-peer adversaries whose own capabilities are rapidly advancing?

If the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not the answer, then the answer nonetheless includes something like it: a software intensive platform that can rapidly integrate evolving new sensors, weapons systems, and communications. A platform that is flown by highly skilled military crews but that increasingly places at their command integrated information and command capabilities that humans cannot achieve alone.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you build such a platform at a time of rapid tech change? With some stumbles, if the history of both military and commercial tech evolution is any indication.

Maintaining and enhancing American military effectiveness requires a new, integrated look at the role of advanced tech as a fundamental driver of changes in military operations and the nature of the military forces themselves. That challenge goes well beyond rooting out Beltway bandits and bureaucratic inertia and complicity in cost overruns. It means making the right decisions about what to keep and build on, too.

Photo Credit: DigtialStorm/Getty Images

Administrative State • Congress • Deterrence • military • Post

Swampy Washington Should Not Compound the F-35’s Failure

Mae West famously said that too much of a good thing can be wonderful. Well, Washington lawmakers seem determined to turn that logic on its head. They want too much of a bad thing, one that bad thing is already too expensive. And it’s not wonderful.

Recently, the House Appropriations Committee added two-dozen F-35 fighters to the number of such jets that the Pentagon has requested. If the purchase goes forward, those 103 new warplanes would represent a colossal waste of money on top of the tens of billions the federal government has already squandered on the massive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. 

The F-35’s proponents have been over-promising and under-delivering for decades now. Don’t take my word for it. Just last year the military completed an internal assessment of the plane. The review shows ongoing reliability issues with the jet that have already greatly shortened its useful life. In other words, lawmakers are lining up to say they want to buy more of a plane that can’t even fulfill its stated mission.

It’s one thing for lawmakers to have believed the hype and invested in the F-35 decades ago when the concept was introduced. Many people inside and outside our military fell for the pie in the sky promise of a single jet that could do it all. Lawmakers should not, however, trip over themselves to repeat their past mistakes by adding a hundred more of these clunkers to the military’s fleet. 

It might have been different if Lockheed had finally solved the problems with the JSF. But it hasn’t, and the problems that have long dogged the plane aren’t getting better. The same internal review found “no improving trend” among the number of aircraft available for training and combat missions.

This failing jet is good at one thing and one thing only: ringing up costs. Bloomberg News reported the F-35 program, which is already the most expensive weapons system in the history of warfare, is adding another $22 billion in unexpected costs. Expect that price tag to increase, not decrease.

Why would the Pentagon want so much of this less-than-wonderful weapon? Perhaps it just feels stuck, thinking that at this point it is too far down the F-35 road to turn back.

After all, the JSF was conceived decades ago with the promise it would solve problems and replace other legacy systems. Starting in the 1990s, military decisionmakers decided to give Lockheed a contract to build a one-size-fits-all jet, a weapon that could be used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. 

Bottom line, It didn’t work. And, with the results we’re getting now, it would seem reasonable to conclude that it will never work as intended. This should be a warning that something is basically flawed that would accommodate a series of false assumptions in the face of all evidence. 

And here we are once again after investing billions of dollars and considering to keep spending more money because the project is too big to fail. This is the kind of government project management that drives Americans nuts. We’re told these project managers are brilliant. So why is their decision making so fundamentally flawed and costing us billions of dollars? 

A few years ago, a RAND Corp. study found the three F-35 variants had drifted so far apart during development that having a single base design may prove to be more expensive than if the armed services had built separate aircraft tailored to their own requirements from the get-go. That, unfortunately, was more than 20 years into the program, when most of the people who thought this was a good idea had retired or gone into consulting. 

It took these geniuses all this time and money to confirm that one size doesn’t fit all? That the F-35 is ineffective at many of the tasks the military needs, such as force projection? Flying an F-15 overhead lets the bad guys know we’re there in a way the F-35 cannot, for example.

The JSF may even be dangerous. Earlier this year, Japan grounded its F-35 jets after an accident. That would seem to negate another supposed advantage of the JSF: that we can sell it to our allies to help with joint defense.

There’s no reason to invest more money in a plane that’s ineffective, too expensive, and hazardous. The Pentagon needs more planes, but ones that can actually get the job done. Why not cut the F-35 order and invest in effective weapon systems instead?

Once again the treasury, resources, and lives of service members are needlessly at risk. Why? 

Why continue with a project that is not fulfilling it’s intended objective?

Why spend more money when the results continue to indicate failure?

Why invest time and resources on a “loser project” when that time and resources could be directed to a better idea?

Why is the House Appropriations Committee just going along with this increasingly costly program?

Why aren’t they asking more questions before committing to more money?

A robust military budget is in America’s interests, but the size and ambitions of the military-industrial complex demand oversight and accountability. The fact that in lieu of a complete accounting of military spending, we only get excuses is unacceptable because it leaves us vulnerable to misappropriations, the waste of our money and wasteful projects like this one.

It’s irresponsible to consider sending America’s best to war with a clearly flawed piece of machinery that has not delivered on its promises. Knowing what we know today after decades of investment, why pursue the F-35? “Close enough for government work” only misses the mark and promotes mediocrity over excellence. Excellence is what Americans deserve and what our military pilots deserve. 

Photo credit: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

China • Foreign Policy • military • Post

We Must Mine Space Before China Does

The object of the Chinese game of “Go” is to outmaneuver your adversary by surrounding him until he has nowhere else to go. Once totally encircled, your rival is forced to surrender and you are victorious. It has become passé to claim that China has been playing “Go” while the United States has been playing checkers, but it is closer to the truth than we care to admit.

Since opening itself up to the West in the 1970s, China has been striving to insert itself into every aspect of the world’s economy. Once it integrated itself within this framework, Beijing worked assiduously to dominate the most strategic sectors. If the Chinese could not dominate these sectors, then they sought to become so important that refusing to do business with China would be financially detrimental.

China Corners Rare Earth Metals
China’s encirclement strategy continues today, even as the trade war rages between the two titans.

China has become so enmeshed in the global supply chain that, for years, they have managed to work themselves into an important position in the vital rare earth metals market. For the record, rare earth metals are essential for any and all modern pieces of technology. Everything from your iPad to a cruise missile requires rare earths to function.

Beijing has endeavored to have an outsized influence in this market not only for the sake of making money (although they do plenty of that) but also because Beijing knows such an outsized influence would complicate the ability of the rest of the world—specifically the United States and its allies—to have access to these important minerals.

There is some debate as to whether the Chinese could actually deprive the United States of the vital rare earths. In 2010, the Chinese attempted to restrict access to rare earths and the world market was able to correct for this flagrant abuse and keep trade going.

Rare earth metals get their name not because they are hard to find. Instead, they are called “rare” because they are hard to reach. China’s mercantilist trade policy is akin to staking out every waterhole in the desert—only rather than cutting off access to water (although, that’s not beyond them—just ask the Indians), the Chinese are doing it with rare earth metals.

Even if China cannot restrict American access to rare earths, the fact that 35 percent of global reserves (the most in the world) are in Chinese control, and that China produced 70 percent of total rare earths in 2018, and that 80 percent of rare earths consumed by the United States in 2018 came from China, means the threat to American high-tech is real. Still, the United States is working with its partners to overcome this apparent deficit.

Meanwhile, America is focusing on getting its own rare earth mines back online after decades of neglect. Yet, the Chinese have the United States by the short hairs—at least for the time being. Until the United States and its partners can secure the rare earth metals they need, the risk will increase, meaning that global prices will increase. This is another example of China outmaneuvering the United States.

To Break China’s Encirclement, We Must Go to Space
There is one, unconventional long term strategy for overcoming the Chinese advantage in this vital industry. That strategy is space mining.

China has encircled the United States in the rare earth industry. But the United States can still look up and go above the Chinese encirclement, thereby breaking it. Many of the celestial bodies in the solar system—including the moon and the millions of asteroids that separate the inner solar system from the outer planets—are chock full of these rare earths.

Once the United States establishes the infrastructure necessary for space mining, gaining access to a steady stream of these vital resources will be relatively easy. Besides, space mining could be a new market that would be worth trillions of dollars.

Yet, America has little time to implement a robust plan for capturing essential asteroids (and laying claim to resource-rich areas of the moon). China is already on the moon, testing the lunar surface to see where a viable mining colony can be established. The United States cannot simply hope that it can overcome the advantages China has spent years building up in the rare earth metals market.

What’s more, the current trade war with China is not going away anytime soon. The United States nevertheless has comparative advantages in the strategic domain of space. Those advantages are in danger of eroding, however, so time is of the essence.

By maximizing American commitment to space mining now, the United States can hope to never again be fearful of the Chinese in the essential rare earth metals market. Therefore, Congress must move federal research and development dollars into the budding space mining industry while at the same time encouraging American start-up firms to get to the moon and nearby resource-rich asteroids. Fast.

Space holds the key to America’s (and humanity’s) future. It is only a matter of time before a nation-state captures the strategic high ground of space and fully exploits it to their advantage. Chinese investment and commitment to space development means that the United States stands a real chance of losing out. And, as America’s comparative advantages in space recede, Washington will find itself increasingly hamstrung on Earth.

China has managed to corner key markets and integrate itself in the world economy. It has effectively encircled the United States in key areas. The only way to break Beijing’s encirclement, then, is to go above them and harness the seemingly limitless bounty that space has to offer before Beijing blocks that last refuge in their pernicious encirclement campaign.

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Photo Credit: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post

America Can Afford to Stay Calm with Iran

President Trump recently ordered and then called off a retaliatory strike against Iran for destroying a U.S. surveillance drone. The U.S. asserts that the drone was operating in international space. Iran claims it was in Iranian airspace.

Antiwar critics of Trump’s Jacksonian rhetoric turned on a dime to blast him as a weak, vacillating leader afraid to call Iran to account.

Trump supporters countered that the president had shown Iran a final gesture of patience—and cleared the way for a stronger retaliation should Iran foolishly interpret his one-time forbearance as weakness to be exploited rather than as magnanimity to be reciprocated.

The charge of Trump being an appeaser was strange coming from leftist critics, especially given Trump’s past readiness to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons, his willingness to destroy ISIS through enhanced air strikes, and his liberation of American forces in Afghanistan from prior confining rules of engagement.

The truth is that Iran and the United States are now engaged in a great chess match. But the stakes are not those of intellectual gymnastics. The game is no game, but involves the lives, and possible deaths, of thousands.

The latest American-Iranian standoff is not like that of 1979-1981, when theocratic revolutionaries removed the Shah, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and took American hostages for 444 days—and humiliated America.

Iran fears there are now no such American liabilities. Forty years later, America has no presence in Iran. It has long since given up on bringing Tehran back into the Western fold.

There are no Americans in Iran to be kidnapped and no Iranian allies inside Iran to be saved. Iran has no leverage over the United States, at least not as it did in 1979.

Nor is the current confrontation reminiscent of the 2003-2011 tensions in the region. The United States is not fighting a ground war in the Middle East, much less one on the border of Iran.

The U.S. no longer believes in nation-building the autocratic Middle East into Western-style democracies. American troops are not in jeopardy from Iranian ground attacks. Americans have no financial or psychological capital invested in liberalizing Iraq, much less Iran and its environs.

Nor is the situation like the chronic Iranian tensions of the last 40 years in which an oil-dependent U.S. feared Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz, or the sudden cutoff of imported oil, ensuring Nixon-era gas lines.

America is now the largest producer of gas and oil in the world, soon to be the largest exporter as well. The U.S. economy is booming. Iran’s is imploding.

The economies of China, Japan and Europe depend on the free flow of Middle Eastern oil. But China is currently in a trade war of nerves with the United States. An appeasing Europe doesn’t have the desire to help ramp up sanctions on Iran to prevent its nuclearization, nor is it eager to accede to U.S. entreaties to increase defense spending and enhance the NATO alliance. Japan is trying to deny Iranian aggression in fear that the global oil market might spike on news of Persian Gulf tensions.

In other words, both allies and enemies expect the United States to ensure that their shipping and their oil are safe.

Nor are we too concerned for our longtime ally Israel with regard to Iran. An impoverished Iran is bereft of allies and remains an international pariah, desperate to sell its embargoed oil to any rogue autocracy shameless enough to buy it. Israel is nuclear and has never been militarily stronger. It is now self-sufficient in oil and gas.

Israel has forged new ties with China, Russia and the European Union, and renewed its traditionally close relationship with the United States. Iran’s neighbors in the Arab world are either in a mess or clandestinely allied with Israel. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have never been weaker vis-a-vis Israel.

Time is on the American side. Each day Iran grows weaker and poorer, and the U.S. stronger and richer.

Iran’s only hope is to draw the Trump administration into a messy Iraq-like ground war, or, at worst, a Balkans-style, months-long bombing campaign—with plenty of CNN footage of civilian collateral damage.

How, then, can the U.S. deter Iranian escalation without getting into an unpopular war before the heated 2020 election? It merely needs to persist in the present standoff: Ramp up the sanctions even tighter and ignore pathetic Iranian attacks on foreign ships.

If Tehran preemptively attacks an American ship or plane, it will be met by a disproportionate response, preferably one aimed not at civilian infrastructure but at the Iranian military hierarchy, Revolutionary Guard and theocratic elite.

Otherwise, the Trump administration can sit back and monitor Iran’s international ostracism and economic isolation while remaining unpredictable and enigmatic, ready to hit back hard at any attack on Americans but without being suckered into an optional war with Iran in the perennial Middle East quagmire.

Photo Credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images


America • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post

Saudi Billionaires Are Not a Reason to Sacrifice Americans

Let me pose a simple question: What was the last American war that did not involve Saudi Arabian interests?

In 1994, photographers captured this scene as a U.S. Marine took up a strategic kneeling combat stance in the early hours of Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, perhaps the last U.S. foreign intervention that did not in some way tie back to the U.S.-Saudi “alliance.”

There have been other small actions abroad that arguably qualify but one can not escape the pattern: Virtually every shooting war involving the U.S. military in the last 30 years has involved the interests of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim kingdom that leads one side of a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict that seems to have become the great international relations divide of the post-Soviet era. Questions regarding the U.S.-Saudi relationship come to mind again as the drums of another Middle East war seem to be urging America to attack Saudi Arabia’s enemy directly: Oil tankers attacked, an expensive U.S. drone shot down, rumors of an American cyber attack on Iranian missile systems.

As belligerents trade conflicting accounts of alleged acts of war, it’s helpful to remember this list of historical causes of conflict that remain in question as potential hoaxes designed to tempt our country into armed conflict. Would attacking Iran help America? Or would it follow an almost unbroken pattern of U.S. military might serving Saudi interests?

Consider this brief list of recent conflicts:

2015-present: The Yemeni Civil War. For reasons that remain unclear to me, the United States followed Saudi Arabia in intervening in Yemen. The war has resulted in shocking and gruesome suffering.

2015-present: Libya civil war. The United States continues to participate in that war for the benefit of a Saudi ally. The now dead former leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, once accused Saudi Arabia of using its alliance with the United States against Libya.

2014-present: Syrian civil war. The United States has joined Saudi Arabia to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Syria is often viewed as an ally of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief rival, and a conduit for Iran to project power in the region.

1991-present: Iraq. The original military action against Iraq (the Gulf War) was intended to protect Saudi Arabia from a potential invasion from its neighbor to the north. Since then, the war has undergone several phases and resulted in a staggering financial commitment from the United States. The United States most recently participated in operations to counter ISIS in Iraq and remains to continue humanitarian operations. The current participation can be seen as a facet of the operations in Syria.

2001-present: Afghanistan/Pakistan. Intervention in both countries began as a response to the September 11 attacks against the United States by Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden. Since 2001, the Saudis have been so involved in the wars that they are considered an indispensable player in the current peace talks. American presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan has strategic value for the Saudis because of the proximity to Iran’s Northern border.

1998-1999: Kosovo War. When the U.S. intervened in the Kosovo war in 1998, Saudi Arabia already had guerilla-style fighters on the ground fighting on the same side the United States would join. Since then, the Saudi’s have used Kosovo as a base of operations to radicalize fighters for use in the Syrian War. The New York Times credited these operations with producing “314 Kosovars—including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children—who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State.”

Whatever Saudi Arabia’s importance to U.S. national interests, it’s hard to understand why virtually every war America has fought over the last three decades has involved Saudi interests. As I recently noted,

Saudi Arabia supports and exports Wahhabism—a strain of Islam that inspires a lot of terror. As noted by HuffPost, out of the 61 groups that are designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, the ‘overwhelming majority are Wahhabi-inspired and Saudi-funded groups, with a focus on the West and Iran and their primary [enemies].’

Private Saudi citizens reportedly funded Iraqi rebels who attacked Americans in the early part of the Iraq war. According to The New York Times, Saudis continue to finance the Taliban in Afghanistan, which continues to fight the U.S.-supported government in Kabul. If we’re concerned about Russian interference in American politics, we might also be concerned that Saudi Arabia lavishly funded the Clinton Foundation while it had matters pending before the Clinton-led State Department.

The Washington Post attempted to describe and inventory the network of influence Saudi Arabia has cultivated in Washington, D.C.. In my view, the article fell far short of explaining why American foreign policy seems so beholden to Saudi interests.

In spite of electing one president and then another who promised to end American adventurism in the Middle East, and despite Congress repeatedly voting (here, here, and here) to curtail American support for Saudi Arabia’s wars, American voters appear to have less influence over our military than the Saudi foreign minister.

Somehow, we’ve entered an era in which the president can continue to fight endless wars by vetoing every attempt to stop them. That’s a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Article I of the Constitution, which grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war.

One benefit of the NeverTrump obsession has been a sudden skepticism of Saudi Arabia’s value to the United States after Donald Trump’s intervention on the Kingdom’s behalf. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. On this question, the NeverTrumpers have finally articulated a real Constitutional crisis.

We need to rationalize American-Saudi relationship to obtain greater benefit to the United States at less cost. The precious blood and treasure of the American military is not a toy and it should only be used when American interests are clearly at stake. I would not sacrifice a single hair on my son’s head to protect all the idle billionaires in Saudi Arabia. I’m sure every soldier in the U.S. military has a parent who feels the same way about their son or daughter.

Here’s an idea: How about telling Saudi Arabia to pursue peace with Iran or fight the next conflict with its own sons?

Photo Credit: Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • China • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • Post • Trade

To Beat China, Recognize Taiwan

The Sino-American trade war is only just beginning. Initial reports show that the American side is faring better than the Chinese, but these reports are hardly conclusive. As David P. Goldman has assessed, China still has a great deal of maneuvering room with which to bludgeon the United States.

What Washington needs in its ongoing trade war is greater leverage. And, that leverage will not be found in the economic realm.

True leverage would keep China’s leadership off-balance. To that end, the United States should recognize Taiwan’s independence.

Beijing has long insisted that Taiwan is part of China and that the two “will be united” . . . someday. Chinese President Xi Jinping, moreover, won’t rule out the use of force in achieving this long-standing aim. Beijing believes it is a fait accompli that Taiwan will be returned to Chinese rule just as the British ultimately gave up prosperous Hong Kong. And once Taiwan is brought under its dominion, China will have secured its maritime border.

One China, Two Systems?
The United States, for its part, has for 40 years tried to thread the needle between appeasing China and backing Taiwan’s independence in all but name.

Under the naïve leadership of President Jimmy Carter, U.S. policy shifted away from active support of Taiwanese independence. Instead, Carter embraced the Chinese concept of “One China, Two Systems.” This was a shocking giveaway to Beijing, trading real leverage for empty rhetoric. Ever since, Taiwan has existed in a precarious diplomatic gray zone: it is neither totally sovereign nor subordinate to China. What’s more, China has been emboldened to wage a ceaseless, decades-long economic war upon the United States.

“One China, Two Systems” is a lie. There is only one China, with its Communist system, and one Taiwan, with its democracy.

Given 40 years of history, China wouldn’t expect the United States to be so bold so suddenly—even with a disruptor like Donald Trump in the White House. In the past, the Chinese have said Americans would be unwilling to trade Los Angeles for Taipei—a thinly veiled warning that Beijing would respond to U.S.-backed Taiwanese independence with nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Perils
Would the Chinese go nuclear over Taiwan’s independence? China certainly poses a serious nuclear threat. Beijing has spent much time and effort building its “underground Great Wall,” an intricate, 3,107-mile system of concrete tunnels where the Chinese store and transport an unknown number of nuclear weapons.  

And certainly, China would increase its military brinkmanship. But China would also have to contend with the judgment of the world as its leaders make short-sighted decisions in competition with the United States.

And what would the United States do? Until recently, our options were limited. U.S. missile defenses are sparse. But what we do have is deterrence. It should come as no surprise that China has expressed concerns about the Trump Administration’s decision, at long last, to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Cold War-era treaty barred the United States from developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles. China never signed the INF Treaty and so has pursued its mid-range missile program unhindered.

Today, as tensions between Beijing and Washington intensify—and as China has grown wealthier and more militarily capable—Beijing has become more bellicose toward Taiwan. Xi Jinping has not only vowed that Taiwan will be brought to heel at some point in his lifelong presidency, but under Xi, China’s military has made investments in amphibious warfare capabilities that would make an invasion feasible. China-watcher Ian Easton is concerned that China will act aggressively toward Taiwan within the decade.

Thus, the Trump Administration must take bold steps in not only increasing its defense of the besieged island of Taiwan, but Washington must officially recognize Taiwan as a separate state from China—privy to all of the same protections and benefits that are given to sovereign states.

Fall Like a Thunderbolt
Douglas MacArthur once described Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” From the U.S. perspective, the island provides an advantageous geostrategic position for American and allied forces to undermine China’s hegemonic grand strategy. Lose that, and China has the ability to push beyond its maritime borders and threaten Japan, the Philippines, and other distant places.

For their part, the leaders of Taiwan have long abandoned the pretense that theirs is the only legitimate government of China and favored independence from their larger, authoritarian neighbor.

As the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once said, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” If Trump were to suddenly announce a complete reorganization of America’s defense posture in northeastern Asia, the Chinese would be off-balance.

America’s goal is to either force China to comport with a “rules-based order” (which is unlikely) or to weaken China so much that it cannot threaten the U.S.-led international order any longer. Recognizing Taiwanese independence would completely upend the Chinese position.

Consider, too, if the United States announced that it would most—if not all—of its forces from South Korea and reposition them in Taiwan, this might also prompt Kim Jong-un to seek accommodation with the West rather than continue to let himself be used as China’s pawn.

Each time tensions between China and the United States increase, North Korea has conveniently been stirred into taking action that distracts Washington from dealing more forcefully with Beijing. At some point, Kim will want to remove himself from China’s vice-grip and secure his own interests.

Right now, the Chinese are convinced they can weather the Trump trade storm. But as Trump said in The Art of the Deal, “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

The president can live up to those words with Taiwan. Let’s keep the Chinese off-kilter, right a historic wrong perpetrated by short-sighted U.S. leaders, draw Taiwan closer to the United States—and in the process ensure that China will never achieve hegemony over the Asia-Pacific, let alone the world.

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America • Center for American Greatness • Europe • History • military • Post • The Culture

My Father’s D-Day Memories

D-Day is more than a remembrance of America’s great victory in the Battle of Normandy. It is a celebration of the Greatest Generation and the lessons they have to teach us.

Like Jews repeating the story of the Passover every year for 3,000 years, we must recall the story of this generation’s great deeds, or we will lose some idea of who we are, why we are here, and what we are capable of achieving. Indeed, if we don’t remember what our fathers knew, we will lose our country.

My beloved father, who passed away two years ago at 98-years-old, was a typical member of the greatest generation. Phil Schultz was eternally optimistic, fearless, hard-working, a responsible family man and provider, and patriotic to his core. He achieved the American Dream, not through selfishness or callousness but rather through family loyalty, taking care of those closest to him, and believing in himself. It was the same ability to pull together and have confidence in victory that gave our country the stamina to win World War II, and later let my Dad realize his personal dream of being a professional cameraman.

If only the Millennials and Generation Z could share in his life experiences and wisdom for just a moment, their world would be transformed.

A Quintessentially American Story
Here are the roots of my Dad’s optimism.  He was born in a small house with a dirt floor in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the Soviet Union. His father escaped the Communists, made his way to America, and after several years, had earned enough to bring the family to join him.

My Dad was 9 years old. He excelled in public school and won a place in the Bronx High School of Science, but had to drop out during the Depression to help his family. He never finished school. He did serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Oregon as a firefighter and a logger. Back home, he was a self-taught photographer with his gang of Jewish friends in the Bronx, taking girlie pictures and selling them to cheap magazines for a few dollars.

When America entered World War II, my father, armed with his portfolio of photos, signed up immediately.  He was assigned to be a combat photographer with the Army Signal Corps.

Phil Schultz with his camera. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

He soon shipped out to England, to prepare for the Allied invasion of Northern Europe. He was with the 165th Signal Photo Company, 29th Infantry Division. This was the “Band of Brothers” division that took Omaha Beach, the lead troops in the invasion that began on June 6, 1944.

Being a combat photographer meant he served on the front lines of World War II from Omaha Beach to the liberation of Paris, including the Battle of the Bulge, as well as the battle to take the Remagen Bridge that led into Germany and ultimately Berlin.

His films of the action are in the Library of Congress. During the war, they were edited by the Army and shown as newsreels in cinemas across America. Remember, this was before TV, and the images captured by soldiers like my father were how Americans at home could follow the war. It was important in mobilizing the entire country to sacrifice, to work hard for the war effort and to win.

The amazing thing is I have “home photos” of it all, which I found years later when Dad had to move to assisted living and I was closing down my parents’ apartment. There was a small box from a Roliflex camera he had found in a cave in Germany during the war, and it was crammed full of high-quality Leica contact sheets of still photos he and his buddies had taken mostly between the battles.

The Museum of the City of New York held an exhibition of Phil Schultz’s photographs. (Courtesy of the author.)

Here are his few personal photos from Normandy, June 1944, with commentary in his own words.

“At Last, We Are Going After Hitler”
My experiences in World War II, I would say, started way before Pearl Harbor, because I was always extremely anti-fascist, and I knew somewhere along the way we would have to fight, and fight everything that was happening before it. So after Pearl Harbor, I went to volunteer in the Army, even before most of my friends.

As a soldier, we didn’t know when the D-Day invasion was going to come, but there was a feeling—there was such a build-up of American forces . . . all of a sudden, you are almost elbow to elbow with American forces on this island (Great Britain). They were coming over by the boatload and it was more and more of a build-up. Then one day, one day we said, “Alright, pack everything, you have to get on the trucks.”

We got on the trucks in a convoy and we went this way and that way. The roads were dark, and all the signs had been taken down, in case of a German invasion.

I still get a chill, remembering. As far as I could see along the country roads, piles of munitions. The people came out in the dark and watched. They lined the roads. It was so emotional. We didn’t talk in the trucks and it was very emotional. The only talking was maybe, “You got a cigarette?” The emotion. They knew what was happening.

We went to Torquay, which was where we got on the boat. We weren’t gung ho. No, we were scared, because we weren’t experienced. We didn’t know what to [expect]—we hadn’t been under fire. War was movies.

I remember feeling, at last, we are going after Hitler. I was happy because this would open up the second front and end the war and end Hitler. I wasn’t happy, “ha-ha happy,” but it was a very emotional period. We all knew. I and a couple of other guys I was close with said, “Oh boy, this is it.”

On the truck that night we were told where we were going. We are going to Normandy. They gave us maps, told us where we were going, what our objective was, where we were going to land exactly on the beach, every yard was marked off on the map. They knew where Phil Schultz was going to land, the only thing missing was my name. We were supposed to land about 2 p.m. on D-Day.

The map soldiers were given before the Normandy invasion. (Courtesy of the author.)

We got on the boats that night and fell asleep. I was on a small boat with artillery. The next morning, we first saw where we were. We were not close to shore. We were surrounded by an armada of tens of thousands of ships. We just couldn’t believe it.

Part of the armada headed for the Normandy coast. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

Then there was a reading on the ship of Eisenhower’s proclamation and order of the day. What we were supposed to do, to invade this and that.

Before we went off to the invasion, about month or two before, when I was assigned to London. I spent a lot of time with Robert Capa (the older brother of a best friend from the Bronx). He was a war correspondent and he knew he was going to go in with the very first wave. I was supposed to land at 1 or 2. But what happened was that we heard all sorts of rumors that things didn’t go well on the beach. We didn’t go in when we were supposed to and I started to notice small speed boats bringing wounded back to certain ships, and some wounded were brought back to my ship.

I asked permission to go to the beach, because they were going to pick up wounded. I had to promise I wouldn’t go onto the beach. The officer said, “You aren’t landing yet and you can’t land without your unit, so only if you come back.” I did go on the beach and we brought back wounded.

Now the beach— [there] was what you call beach master, this was a Navy guy, the beach master was in charge of this much beach and the boat. And he was standing there with all the artillery. There was a designation for the ships to stop and come and go.

There was a beach master. Fortunately, there was no shelling when I got there. They invaded or started invading about 5-5:30 and when I got there it was 10:30-11:00. And the beach was practically empty because everyone on the beach was laying down, and they were up against the hedgerows where they could not break through yet. So, I got some pictures of the wounded being put on and I went back to my ship and we didn’t land until late, late that day.

The first thing that happened to me when we got on the beach, it was quiet already, I bumped into a United Press correspondent who I knew from London, because of Robert Capa, and the first thing he said was, “Capa is missing.”

Omaha Beach. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

I said, “Oh, God!” and the first thing that came to my mind was what am I going to tell Julia, his mother. I was very close to his family, he was like a big brother to me. For three days, I really worried.

I went into Sainte-Mère-Église, which we just captured earlier that day. It was in the movie “The Longest Day,” where the paratrooper got stuck on the steeple. That was the village. It was right on the waterfront practically, just to the right of us. For three days I worried whether Capa . . . I didn’t know it, but before I even got to the beach he got his pictures and he was back in London. He wouldn’t trust his pictures to anybody. He got back on the boat and went back on one of the ships and got himself back to London to the labs to print his pictures.

Robert Capa’s famous photo of the Omaha landing. Photo by Pierre Andrieu. (AFP/Getty Images)

His darkroom assistant was so excited the negatives were rushed back before the battle was over, that he melted them in his haste, and only a few images survived.

Playing poker in a Normandy barn. One soldier filled his helmet with what he thought was water in a barrel, and let out a yell—“whiskey!” It was Calvados, Normandy’s famous apple brandy. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

From then on things are kind of blurry. We fought for weeks in the hedgerows.

In the battle for Saint-Lô, we were under such heavy artillery fire I wouldn’t—couldn’t—I was afraid to stand up. I was crawling in a tank rut and knew I’d be hit any minute. You felt like every shell was coming straight at you. There was a French farmer’s body in the trench and I crawled right over it. All of sudden I hear, “You can’t get pictures that way soldier.”

I looked up. It was General Cota I’d been assigned to take photos of him in England, when he went to visit Lady Astor. (He was played by Robert Mitchum in “The Longest Day.”) He was walking along under fire. But he got hit—shrapnel in the shoulder. An hour later, I was taking pictures of him getting a medal.

General Bradley’s aggressive thrust allowed Allied troops to reach Mt. Saint Michel quickly. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

By August, the road was open to Paris. We stopped for the 2nd French. Eisenhower thought the 2nd French Armored Division attached to the American Army should have the honor of marching in and taking Paris. So we were off now to Paris and every photographer in the Army, no matter where they were, attached themselves to the 2nd Army Division. We were advancing 20, 30, 40 miles a day and there was nothing to hold us back and the only thing in front of us was Paris.

I hooked up with Capa again, and we came to the town of Rambouillet and there was Hemingway with his own private army of free French, marching them up and down.

We go into Paris. It is so unbelievable what the scene was – right in the middle of French soldiers. They were screw ups because I remember that night before we were driving into Paris, they were driving with all their headlights on. You don’t do this! It’s still war, you’ll get killed.

On both sides of the street, French lined the streets and French tanks lined up like a convoy firing point blank down towards the Place de la Concorde, because there was still some resistance there. I am behind one of the tanks and getting pictures of people cheering and the tanks firing.

Paris, after the shooting had stopped. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

And I know, experienced already, that if a tank is firing, someone is going to shoot back. I get my pictures and I leave, go around the corner. And my officer, he went to the spot where I was and got killed. You get that streetwise—battlewise. You are there, you do a job, and get out.

Then I went into the Place de la Concorde and there were thousands of people there already, and someone started to throw fire again, and that is when this 300-pound woman grabs me and sits on me, lying on top of me trying to get up. After that, there was no more fire.

That was the liberation of Paris.

Paris was so beautiful. The French people were beautiful, the whole world was beautiful, the weather it was fine, and we were beating the bastards and we were winning the war and we were alive and it was beautiful.

Phil Shultz relaxing by the Seine after the liberation of Paris. (Courtesy of the author.)

After the War

It was a long, hard war, with much death and many moments of imminent death or capture. It wasn’t something my father talked about, except for the funny bits, like finding the Calvados or the fat lady in Place de la Concorde. He came home with a boundless font of optimism and gratitude and love of America.

The post-war boom was not something that fell into the soldiers’ laps—their hard work and struggles to survive continued. New York City had a tight-post war economy and a father-son dominated photographers’ union that would not let in new members. For several years, his dream of working as a cinematographer was foiled by the union and anti-Semitism in New York’s advertising industry.

Those were just two more real-life challenges you accepted as reality and met, without whining and without building a life-long grievance. The important part was winning, not that life presented a fight.

At times, he could barely put food on the table for his family. My father, after he married, gave my mother credit for urging him to believe in himself and not give up on his dream career. Eventually, he got that dream job and became a pioneer in early TV commercials, making many of the famous commercials Baby Boomers grew up with.

The last few years of his life, my Dad’s conversations became short and repetitive, but they were quintessential Great Generation to the end: “Your Daddy’s fine. I have no major problems and no minor problems. I try not to let anything get me down. I look on the bright side of life.”

“Just roll with the punches,” he would say. “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

His last words to us were: “I’m tough. That’s my hobby. Just keep going to the end. I’m going to jump for joy.”

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Photo credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

America • military • Post • The Culture

Coming Home

No matter where you lived in America on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the story often begins with a sapphire sky filled with airy, white clouds that perfectly contrasted against the expansive blue, a picture-perfect backdrop shattered by the deadliest attack on American soil in the country’s history.

Nineteen men trained by al Qaida boarded four passenger aircrafts that morning, seeking to carry out a devastating coordinated attack aimed at symbols of American freedom: the World Trade Center, the Capitol and the Pentagon. Three hit their target. Flight 93, the plane targeting the Capitol, crashed in an isolated field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, thanks to brave passengers who wrested control of the plane from the hijackers. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day, 400 of whom were New York City’s first responders.

Taylor Cleveland and Victor Lewis are two people whose lives were changed by the terror attacks. They were separated by geography, age and life experience, but for them, 9/11 proved to be a common call of duty to serve their country. The Washington Examiner spoke with them about their service.

Ohioan Taylor Cleveland grew up surrounded by soldiers.

He says: “Even my priest growing up was a chaplain in World War II. I mean, everybody around here served. It’s just expected that’s what you’re going to do.”

Unfortunately, he couldn’t follow in the footsteps of others. He had been a local high school football star and had wrecked his knee during a game, so the Marine Corps turned him down. Instead, Cleveland turned to community service, earned a degree in criminal justice and then worked as an emergency medical technician, a firefighter and then a beat cop before joining the department SWAT team.

But he knew he had to do something more after the 9/11 attacks.

He says: “My grandfather joined the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941. And I just knew after that there was no way they would keep me out of this war that was coming. There was no way that people were going to go fight a war for me and that they were going to put their lives on the line for me. I could never live with myself as a man if I didn’t go and let somebody else go fight my battles for me.”

He signed up to join the Marine Reserves but had concerns about his knee injury.

“I figured that because I had the knee problem still, they’d still turn me down,” he recalls. “Well, they enlisted me before the medical portion, and they called the house and left a message on the machine that said, ‘Good news, you’re approved.'”

Lewis and Cleveland met in Buffalo, New York, in 2003. Cleveland is 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. Lewis, a Navy hospital corpsman, was attached to the Marine unit. The two became like brothers immediately.

They deployed to Iraq in 2005. Cleveland admits he had a hard time adjusting at first: “I was friends with a fellow reservist by the name of Jeff Wiener who had joined the Marines right out of high school. Wiener’s got this book, and it’s got a picture and a story of every person that was killed in 9/11, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing, bro?’ He smiles at me, and he’s like, ‘Man, I just read this whole book. I can tell you what, I read every single person that was in here that died on 9/11. I know why I’m here.'”

Twenty minutes after that conversation, Wiener was fatally shot in the head. Cleveland recalls, “That’s the last conversation I had with him. Having him say, ‘Man, I know why I’m here,’ is the best gift I’ve been given.”

Lewis says he never got shot in Iraq. No mortar. No shrapnel.

Cleveland practically spits out his beer as he says, “Dude, you were hit by a rocket!”

Lewis is sheepish and uncomfortable telling the story. Deployed south of Haditha, just outside Haqlaniyah, the engagement turned deadly as a guy coming straight at Lewis fired off a rocket-propelled grenade.

He explains: “The blast throws me toward the river. Trying to shake it off, I grab my weapon. I’m trying to fire back. I’m crawling toward the river. I go to stand up and fall back down. Like, ‘What the f—?’ My leg’s all mangled.”

He was medevaced to Al Asad Air Base and then took a Black Hawk to Basra. From there, he was transported to Ramstein, Germany, and finally, Bethesda, Maryland. He wanted a little Motrin and to go back to “his men,” but they told him he was going home.

“I felt like I failed them, you know? Because nobody could take care of my men like me,” Lewis says. “They’re my boys. We hung out. We partied. We kicked it. We shared everything. I wanted to go back.”

That’s the hardest part of returning to civilian life. “I think about it all the time,” he says. “But you know … you can replay it as many times as you like in your mind. The result’s the same.”

Lewis is blunt about his routine after leaving the military: “hanging out, drinking and chasing women.”

He finally went back to work at the fire department, but even working triple shifts couldn’t fill the void left by having to do something other than what he saw as his purpose in life.

He sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs and got lost in the system. Lewis says, “I started snapping at people and flipping out over nothing, but that’s not me. I was looking for help.”

It all came to a head one evening outside a bar when he was approached by two men and a woman looking for trouble. They pummeled Lewis pretty badly; he fought back with a knife.

“People got hurt,” is all he says. The price? Thirty months in prison.

But he turned his life around. He gets treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, has a job he loves at a contracting company and takes care of his twin boys. He talks to Cleveland at least twice a week and is working toward his degree in electrical engineering. Lewis earned a Bronze Star, and Cleveland a Purple Heart. The lesson they want people to remember is simple: American freedom is paid for a thousand different ways.

Photo Credit: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images


Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post • Terrorism

America Should Ignore Neoconservatives on Iran

An Iran war push is underway, but the basis for it is pretty thin. While Iran has been a thorn in America’s side since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, America typically has prioritized other threats. These include Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, and hostile secular nationalists like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Our Middle East policy has many layers, including cozy relations with the Sunni regime of Saudi Arabia and with Israel. But the legacy policy often has an “autopilot” feel, where little effort is made to step back, consider first principles, and determine how much any of this activity benefits American security.

The Iraq Precedent
Iraq should loom large in consideration of a similar campaign against Iran.

In spite of the rhetoric about “weapons of mass destruction” and the later turn to imposing democracy in Iraq, it made sense to many Americans to engage Iraq chiefly as an act of tribal retaliation for the attacks of September 11, 2001. The scale of that terrorist atrocity fueled a rage not fully satisfied by the swift expulsion of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Regardless of the lack of any apparent involvement in the 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussein was hostile to the United States, he was Arab, and this was enough for most Americans.

In this fertile ground, other events combined to allow the Iraq campaign to unfold, including the long-standing desire of Israel to decapitate the unpredictable Saddam regime, the Bush family’s own blood feud with Saddam stretching back to the first Gulf War, and the widely held sense that the risk of a nuclear-armed Iraq was too much too bear.

But the war was an expensive, bloody disaster that failed to deliver on its own terms, dragged on incessantly, cost a great deal of money and blood, soured Americans on excessive involvement in the Middle East, and permanently marred the credibility of the “Intelligence Community.” It was an expensive education for the country at an unspeakable cost to a great many military families.

Trump came into power, in part, through his respect for the American people’s widely held, bipartisan sense that we needed a foreign policy of restraint and caution. Instead of promoting democracy or vague goals like ensuring stability in the tar pits of the Middle East, he promised instead to put America’s interests first. While not an isolationist per se, he was a realist, restrained, and clear-thinking on these matters, asking always and without shame, “What’s in it for us?”

President Trump, however, had another tendency, apparent in his policies toward Russia and Syria, and it came to fruition in his hiring of the seemingly misplaced John Bolton as his national security advisor.

Trump was the anti-Obama, critical of him for nearly everything he did. Where Obama was weak, obsequious to allies and enemies alike, and often in over his head, Trump would be strong, unilateralist, and decisive. Trump was always highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal and withdrew from it under the tutelage of Bolton. The proximate cause is a claim that Iran is funding “proxies” hostile to the United States and its allies and, according to Israeli intelligence, planning some kind of nefarious action against U.S. interests in the region. Iran also may have damaged a few Saudi tankers.

The earlier withdrawal from the nuclear deal presents a dilemma. Deals, by their nature, are two-sided and reciprocal. In other words, in exchange for lifting sanctions and inspections, Iran would gain access to embargoed cash, global oil markets, and other benefits of being a more responsible member of the world community.

More important, the deal, in spite of its flaws, created a united front that included Iran’s occasional sponsors, Russia and China. While Iran is even now also accused of violating the deal, the questions remain whether a deal exists and on what basis can the United States criticize Iranian’s nuclear pursuits if the United States has also withdrawn from the deal that was supposed to put a halt to all that.

Israel and America’s Interests are Distinct
The driving force of much of this is Trump’s—and many Americans’—sense of common cause with Israel. In spite of accusations of anti-Semitic dog whistles, Trump has been a stalwart supporter of Israel and enjoys an extraordinarily friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, as promised, and also recognized Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights. This policy finds favor both with the largely Jewish camp of neoconservatives, as well as Christian Zionists, who make up a large (but shrinking) plurality within the Republican Party. Both of these groups are hostile to Iran largely because of Israel’s own hostility to Iran. And Israel is hostile to Iran for many reasons, but the largest seems to be its support for Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill during Israel’s 2006 incursion into Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a sophisticated and effective fourth-generation fighting force that finds its largest sponsor in Iran. But Hezbollah’s focus seems chiefly to be on ensuring Lebanon’s territorial integrity and opposing Israel. Unlike al-Qaeda and ISIS, it does not appear expansionist or insane.

In addition, Israel has shown no compunction about making increasingly shrill and implausible warnings that an Iranian nuclear weapon is just around the corner, which gets the attention of our political leaders, but has little credibility because of sheer repetition and how similar Israeli claims about Iraq turned out to be false.

None of this, of course, has much to do with the United States. But the essence of neoconservatism is a bias for action and a conflation of American and Israeli interests in the region. And whether in the Bush Administration or now, none has been more bellicose, foolhardy, or aggressive than John Bolton. As Trump himself put it, “He has strong views on things but that’s OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing . . . That’s OK. I have different sides. I have John Bolton and other people that are a little more dovish than him. I like John.”

A war with Iran is a profoundly bad idea, and nothing in particular makes it necessary at the moment. Such a war would involve the expenditure of U.S. blood and treasure to help another nation, which we already help to the tune of $3.2 billion in aid per year. While Saudi Arabia and Israel are understandably wary of Iran, and I have no particular objection to either of them doing whatever they feel they need to do to protect their security and interests, it’s not so clear how any of this squabbling has anything to do with the United States, whose interests in the region are minimal, because of the renaissance of America’s domestic oil production.

A Needless War
Iran is not a friend to America. Few older Americans can forget the hostage-taking at the American embassy, or their involvement in the Beirut barracks bombing or the arming of Sadr’s militias in Iraq. Notably, though, all of these events happened in the Middle East. In other words, the harm Iran has done to the United States was almost entirely avoidable, and such avoidable harms should be avoided.

True, Iran’s clerics are nearly as radical as al-Qaeda or ISIS, but they face a natural ceiling on their potential global reach, because Shia Islam is a minority sect within Islam. When Western powers are absent, the Sunni and Shia radicals tend to fight one another, as in Lebanon and the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Iraq again in the 2000s, and Syria today.

Little good has come from America’s wars of choice in the Middle East. In addition to failing to tamp down the ultimate driver of terrorism in the region—various radical Islamic ideologies—these groups find easy targets and sources of unity in opposing interventionist western powers.

Avoidance is also a strategy for husbanding national power and avoiding unnecessary conflict; this same strategy worked when America avoided the various brushfire wars of the 1970s and 1980s, instead concentrating its military power on the real sources of conflict in the Soviet Union, leading ultimately to victory.

How a conflict with Iran would play out is anybody’s guess. U.S. attempts to impose national power in Libya, Iraq, and Syria suggest that our ability to conduct regime change, while substantial, can be undermined in the post-conflict attempt to usher in a friendly, peaceful political counterpart.

Even the regime change portion is less certain than it used to be, as the ill-fated proxy war in Syria has shown. There, Assad remains in power, and the use of “moderate” rebels have proven to be a costly dead end. Whether in Iran or elsewhere, the enemy gets a vote, and the enemy can study what works as well as we can.

Iraq’s failed conventional resistance to the United States in 2003 provided an important lesson to Iran and other conventional militaries. Their only sure means of resistance is in the form of guerrilla and other asymmetric activity. The U.S. announcement that we dispatched an aircraft carrier and bomber wing to the region to thwart Iran would prove only minimally capable against such forces.

Moreover, geography is an important factor in any conflict. The Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil and any American carrier must transit, are only 21 nautical miles wide. Small boats with suicide bombers, particularly if engaged in swarm attacks augmented by drones and other commercial off-the-shelf technology, could score a surprise win against American forces. After all, it’s hard to hide an aircraft carrier, and the Iranians have shown an appetite for religiously-fueled “human wave” type attacks.

Foreseeable Chaos
The American people have no appetite for another Mideast War over a few damaged Saudi oil tankers. In contrast to the 9/11 attacks or the ISIS atrocities in France, Belgium, and Iraq, this hardly raises an eyebrow.

More important, the American people rightly recognize that more than mere anger is required to go to war. A war must be necessary, it must have some realistic path to victory, and it must have something to do with our interests.

While we have friendly relations with the Saudis and Israelis, it is not in our interest to spend our money and the blood of our soldiers and sailors to relieve them of the obligation of defending themselves and dealing with their own problems. The last time America engaged in such a campaign in Iraq, it ended in disaster. When we tried to intervene for other reasons, in Libya and Syria, it also created a variety of foreseeable forms of chaos that ultimately energized our enduring opponents among extremist Islamic radicals, such as ISIS.

The most logical lesson of America’s last 40 years sojourning through the Middle East is that we should avoid the place as much as possible and defend ourselves at home by keeping out hostile people from these troublesome countries.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

Photo Credit: Rouzbeh Fouladi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Administrative State • America • military • Post

Washington’s Favorite Sport

No, I’m not talking about the state nor am I talking about the Nationals or Redskins. The overwhelming pastime of choice in this town is the funding game. At the moment, the dust is settling in a bout where one defense multinational, Lockheed Martin, went after another one, Boeing. This is over whether there should be an upgrade to Boeing’s F-15 or instead we should go whole hog on the more expensive and problem-ridden F-35.

The Air Force wants to use the F-15X as an immediate solution, ensuring the air fleet has enough aircraft to meet contingencies. But corporate opponents of the upgrade are having nothing of it. For them it’s money over mission.

The man in the crosshairs? Acting Secretary of Defense and Defense Secretary  Designate Patrick Shanahan. He got the official nomination to serve the administration as Secretary of Defense just last week. Thus, his name is likely to be in the news cycle more than a tad coming up. This issue may also raise its head.

My first Army Intel assignment in the early 1980s was with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade, so I know a bit about one of the players. Before Lockheed Martin was its current incarnation, part of it was Martin Marietta. That Martin manufactured the Pershing missile. Now, being an S-2 pog I wasn’t on the maintenance line a lot. But I knew guys who were. And while the birds, properly modified, could have hit the proverbial men’s room of the Kremlin, they were not without issues. Martin also knew how to, shall we say, butter the HR bread, as Pershing guys in uniform would retire one day and be back at work the very next day at their exact same jobs as Martin employees.

So yeah, they knew how to game the system. The apogee of that game is funding. Nothing moves, waddles, or flies in D.C. without cash. As the USAF said about the space program, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Enter Shanahan.

A long time Boeing employee before he came to DOD, he has a reputation around town as a straight shooter. Before he was in this post he was Jim Mattis’ number two. Anybody who understands anything about Mattis knows he would not have tolerated for two minutes anyone not of the highest integrity and professionalism. Shanahan made the grade. His decision to reverse DOD course and go with the F-15 upgrade reflects that.

You’re thinking, Shanahan is still doing Boeing’s bidding. Not quite. Because the upgrade on the F-15 does not take the place, repeat- does not take the place, of going ahead with the F-35 program. It is a needed stopgap measure for the continuity of our air supremacy.

Opines USAF Chief of Staff General David Goldfein, “We absolutely are adamant that the F-35 program, the program of record, absolutely stays on track and we don’t take a dime out of the F-35.” He called the aircraft, “The quarterback of the joint penetrating team.” Enough for you? The F-15X funding just fills in the supply chain issue with 4G F-15X until the 5G, though highly problematic, F-35 is consistently ready for prime time. Plus, the F-15X Eagle can still use the same hangers, equipment, and maintainers as it has for the retiring F-15C Eagle and will remain a superior fighter jet for some time to come.

General Goldfein takes a page from a former USAF brasshat who, in another context, exclaimed, “Mr. President, we must not allow . . . a mine shaft gap!

On the Hill recently, Defense Department officials took some deserved flak over the F-22 Raptor program. It was the savior of the air fleet—until it wasn’t and was cancelled at the cost of billions of dollars. Not wanting to repeat the debacle, the flyboys did their homework this time and proposed $1.1 billion for the F-15Xs in 2020, including enough cash for 35 F-35s. A nice split and obviously cost-effective.

That wasn’t enough for Lockheed and their pals who no doubt were quite pleased at a recent conflict of interest investigation of Shanahan, even after admitting the Eagle improvement would not affect the F-35 program in the long term. But guess what? Shanahan was completely cleared and it looks likely that the investigation itself was designed to distract from problems with the F-35.

What are those problems? In brief, they have a major problem with reliability and that makes the service life of the airplane well below initial reports. For example, the Marines bought the F-35B variant. It was supposed to have an 8,000-hour service life. It looks like it realistically will be 2,100 hours or lower. These are the Air Force’s own numbers. Maintenance? The goal of hitting 80 percent of field metrics standards is not being met. Cyber issues that are known on the plane are still not fixed.

Knowing this, Shanahan remarked that the F-35 “had a lot of opportunity for more performance.” Emphasis on opportunity, not results. As for the F-15 upgrade and the $1.5 trillion cost of the F-35 program he said, “I am biased towards giving the taxpayer their money’s worth.”

This is a refreshing attitude from a public official. It’s pragmatic decision making that doesn’t bust budgets and keeps long-range goals intact. When he sits in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee soon for confirmation, barring unforeseen developments, he will be a slam dunk given Republican Senate numbers. Let’s hope he’s given credit for his candor.

For in a secretary of defense designate and the F-15X, we could have done a lot worse.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • military • Post

To Conquer Chaos, Court It

For all of the rhetoric about our supposed liberal international order, the world is more chaotic and unstable than it has been since World War II. Disorder reigns.

And for the technocratic, democratic globalist elites in the West, this disorder can only be repaired with the right combination of U.S. tax dollars, the blood of American servicemen and women, and a desire to remake entire societies in our image (or, at least, in the distorted image of postmodern, Western elites).

Yet, with each new U.S. intervention, we have detached the use of military force from serious national interests and, in so doing, done real damage to our interests. As the disorder caused by American intervention proliferates and becomes systemic, rival powers, such as China or Russia, step into that chaotic void, eventually benefiting from the chaos that the United States has sown, even as we squander our temporary gains.

Flipping Gaddafi: The One Upside of the Iraq War
For instance, the disorder caused by the United States in Iraq won us the initial benefit of newfound cooperation from a long-time adversary, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. We managed to get him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons and to engage with the West.

Whatever may have been the other failings of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, we could always point to Gaddafi and his decision to give up his nuclear weapons as a win. For a time, Gaddafi even turned Libya into an essential partner in America’s ongoing global war on terrorism. Throughout North Africa thereafter, Libyan intelligence worked hand-in-hand with the United States and its allies to thwart jihadist threats there.

Thanks to the alliance with Gaddafi, the George W. Bush Administration was also made aware of the illicit nuclear weapons proliferation cabal led by Pakistan’s preeminent nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan. Washington was able to disrupt Khan’s highly successful nuclear proliferation scheme, which entailed moving nuclear materials and know-how from places like Russia, China, and Pakistan and into the hands of desperate, rogue regimes, like those of North Korea, Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and at one time, Libya.

Despite having benefited from its alliance with Libya’s insane strongman, though, Washington’s planners eventually led the successful international effort to topple Gaddafi in 2011.

How Washington Spreads the Contagion
What followed were years of instability in Libya, as no central government could assert enough control over the vast country to quell the disorder. The chaos quickly proliferated to neighboring countries, such as Mali, prompting greater Western military intervention. Soon, Islamists began taking over provinces of Libya (such as Benghazi), where they promptly imposed Sharia law, slavery, and other horrors upon the citizenry.

The more the chaos in Libya compounded, the less ability the United States (and the West) had to influence events there. Yet Russia experienced a concomitant increase of its own influence over powerful actors in the region. Ever since the end of the Cold War, Russia had been cut out of the region by U.S. foreign policy. As a result, nowadays people in the region view Russia in a more positive light than they do the Americans.

Thanks to this perception, Moscow has had a much easier time inserting itself into the region. Further, Moscow and Beijing have a firmer and more fundamental grasp on realpolitik: play all sides against each other, keep the locals distracted, and rarely take sides, while waiting to see how the pieces fall before fully asserting one’s own will.

This is precisely what Russia is doing in Libya today. As the U.S.-backed Libyan government of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj in Tripoli founders, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, led by the autocratic General Khalifa Haftar, steadily marches toward Tripoli. Things have gotten so bad that the State Department issued an order for all U.S. government personnel to leave Libya until the dust settles.

Many analysts are convinced that Moscow covertly is supporting Haftar’s military juggernaut. After all, Prime Minister Sarraj’s regime in Tripoli has proven itself incapable of asserting control over Libya. Plus, Haftar’s forces control most of the oil-rich parts of Libya, meaning his is the force with all of the money and resources behind it. The always-cash-strapped Moscow wants influence over Libya’s natural resources as well as access to Haftar’s wealth. By backing his claim to power, Moscow hopes to gain exclusive access to Libya.

Civil Wars as State-Building Exercises

The instability and chaos created by American intervention in Libya have, therefore, been a boon for the revanchist Russians. In fact, we’ve witnessed the resurgence of Russian might all across the Middle East and Africa (what Andrew J. Bacevich refers to as the “Greater Middle East”), where American forces have intervened. From Syria to Libya to the Central African Republic, Russia is yet again reasserting its power in ways that it has not been able to do since the heady days of the Cold War.

None of this would have been possible without the feckless policies of America’s permanent bipartisan fusion party.

As Edward N. Luttwak once exhorted, “Give War a Chance.” Civil wars are brutal (just look at our own). But, if they are expected and allowed to play out naturally, the result is often longer-lasting and more stabilizing than any peace imposed by outsiders. Wars—particularly civil wars—are a harsh remedy. But just as wildfires sometimes help cull forests in order for them to thrive again, wars can be a necessary and natural part of state building. Intervening to stop them can have grave unintended consequences for the long-term development of a country, such as Libya or Syria.

Because Washington waded into countless civil conflicts with little understanding of the dynamics involved, in many cases even more bloodshed and instability resulted. As instability expanded, strategic rivals, like Russia, managed to court the chaos and use it to their geostrategic advantage. In Libya, Russia has not only courted Haftar’s forces but, until recently, it appeared to be courting Haftar’s rival, Prime Minister Sarraj as well. This pattern has repeated throughout the world in the post-Cold War era. As states breakdown internally and intrastate conflict—driven by ethno-religious tensions—takes hold, American forces repeatedly are drawn into the conflict by well-meaning but ignorant elites.

The U.S. military is good at killing people and breaking things, but it often cannot discern one tribal faction from another—especially when everyone fighting are bad guys (such as in Syria). For instance, the group of belligerents who captured a cowering Muammar Gaddafi and then gruesomely executed him on the side of a Libyan highway, the National Liberation Army, were not secular “freedom fighters” looking to create Western-style democracy in Libya. Instead, key elements of this American-backed hodgepodge force were unapologetic jihadists looking to spread Islamist governance to war-torn Libya (which, they eventually did until Haftar showed up and started killing them).

When America intervenes in civil wars to “protect universal human rights,” very often American forces end up having to take sides in a civil war with no clear good guy, thereby incurring the wrath of those who are fighting against our preferred side, while our supposed allies use us, and eventually turn on us.

Plus, we often end up removing the players in a civil war who might be able to lead their country to some semblance of stability. Once such forces are destroyed, we have then created a permanent vacuum for others, like Russia, to exploit.

We’ve Met the Enemy and He Is Us!
Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iran are case studies in how the United States completely destroyed its own dominance in a vital part of the world and allowed for its weaker rivals—particularly Russia—to benefit from the ensuing chaos.

Given this, the United States should stop trying to bring order to chaos and instead start courting that chaos as the Russians and Chinese have so effectively done over the last 20 years.

Why doesn’t Washington ever wait to see what Beijing, Moscow, or Tehran intend to do in a given civil war? Why do we always have to go first?

It is time for Washington to realize that, in an age of durable disorder, there is simply no way to impose stability from the outside. Instead, the goal should be to do the least amount of harm both to ourselves and allies while enhancing our national strategic interests—and our understanding of those should be far more limited than it currently is. At times, the United States should not intervene in a civil war, regardless of the human suffering involved. Other times, we might benefit by replicating Chinese and Russian strategies and exacerbate the chaos; playing all sides against the middle. Rarely, though, should American forces deploy to engage in unwinnable humanitarian warfare as they have done on multiple occasions since the end of the Cold War.

The disease of humanitarian military interventionism has infected the minds of America’s permanent bipartisan fusion party; this disease has made those purported great minds dull and has gotten countless American servicemen and women needlessly killed while wasting trillions of hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars. More importantly, these unnecessary wars have quantitatively hurt U.S. strategic interests around the world.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

Photo credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • China • Deterrence • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • military • North Korea • Post • Russia • Technology

Washington Is Still Not Getting Space Force Right

At this year’s Space Symposium in Washington, D.C., Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan opened his remarks by indicating the United States government takes seriously the threat that China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea pose to our country’s space systems. We rely too much on satellites to provide the necessary bandwidth that our highly technological and interconnected society—as well as our advanced military—requires to function.

While these linkages in space are key for America’s survival (and our global dominance), they are surprisingly poorly defended. Our enemies know this and they’ve made preparations to hold these systems hostage, should tensions escalate between us.

Shanahan’s starkest comments revolved around his claim that China already had deployed advanced ground-based lasers intended to blind and dazzle sensitive American satellites in low-earth orbit. He cautioned that in time, Beijing undoubtedly would seek to deploy laser weapons not only on the ground but ultimately in space itself. Shanahan further stressed that Russia was mirroring China’s development of what’s known in the trade as “counterspace” capabilities.

But, suppose China (and Russia) is much further along in these projects than previously thought.

For those of us who have worked on national security space policy, the threat posed to America’s satellites is nothing new. That the Trump Administration is taking the threat seriously after his predecessors all but ignored it is refreshing. Even so, the fact that the elites in Washington are only now responding to the threat in space is terrifying. After all, China tested its first ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon in 2008. Chinese academics and foreign policy leaders have written an avalanche of papers advocating for the placement of laser weapons in space going back to 2005.

Our enemies now have significant capabilities in space and pose a direct threat to our systems there precisely because Washington ignored the threat for so long.

Is China Weaponizing the Moon?
It’s not just ground-based counterspace weapons, such as lasers and anti-satellite missiles, that threaten our satellites. There is some evidence suggesting that China is already placing rudimentary weapons systems in orbit—not just around Earth, but also near the moon. When China launched its historic Chang’e-4 mission to explore the dark side of the moon, they also deployed some micro-satellites around the moon.

Placed in what’s known as Lagrangian Point-2 (L2), which is an orbit between Earth and the moon, China told the world that the micro-satellites were meant to serve as communication relays between the Chang’e-4 and Beijing. But, some defense experts worry that the orbits of the Chinese microsatellites place them precariously close to America’s critical defense satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) around Earth.

The Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation of satellites exists in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), which links together America’s military deployed around the world. There are other critical satellites in geosynchronous orbits, such as key spy satellites as well as early missile warning satellites. Due to their distance from Earth and their complexity, these American military satellites are extremely hard to replace in the event of an emergency. Should those systems be lost or degraded, the U.S. military could be left deaf, dumb, and blind.

As Jeff Gossel, the top intelligence engineer at the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center told Defense One in October:

You could fly some sort of a weapon around the moon and it comes back—it could literally come at [objects] in GEO . . . And we would never know because there is nothing watching in that direction . . . Why do you need a relay satellite flying around L2? So you can communicate with something that’s going to land on the other side of the moon—or so you can fly around the other side of the moon? And what would that mean for our assets at GEO?

How could a defense establishment that is spending $787 billion on itself have let the Chinese gain on America’s once-unquestioned dominance in space in such a short period of time? What’s more, why haven’t we done more to counter the threat posed in the strategic high ground of space?

People should not assume that just because President Trump has spoken (and tweeted) in favor of the creation of a space force that America’s bloated defense bureaucracy will allow it to happen. In fact, the Pentagon already has been resisting the creation of a fully independent, sixth branch of the United States military, by ensuring that any space force would be subordinate to the Department of the Air Force. As the bureaucratic battle intensifies, the Chinese continue developing and deploying systems with which to render our Armed Forces (and, potentially, even America’s civilian population) deaf, dumb, and blind through dazzling anti-satellite attacks.

The United States is still trying to fight and win World War II without realizing that the world has moved beyond those geopolitical realities because the battlefield has expanded. Our adversaries don’t want to engage in a fair fight and technology exists that will help them avoid a fair fight with the U.S. military while still achieving their strategic objectives. Space plays a significant part in these unconventional strategies for defeating the United States. But, don’t tell the Pentagon. They’re too busy purchasing another $13 billion aircraft carrier that will be useless, thanks to Chinese defenses, should we ever really need to fight Beijing.

We Needed a Space Force Yesterday
In 2000, when Donald Rumsfeld headed the Space Commission, he advised the Pentagon to go slow and start small when creating a space force. At the time, the threats posed to America’s space architecture were negligible.

That was then. Almost 20 years on, things have changed dramatically. The threats to American satellite constellations are immense and growing while America’s ability to defend itself in space is getting weaker. Because Washington delayed creating a true space force for the last 20 years, bigger, bolder, and more immediate action to counter the newer and larger threats today is vital.

But the Pentagon essentially disregards the president’s calls for an independent space force, with only half-hearted responses. The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, still “needs more convincing!” It will take a full-on Chinese or Russian Pearl Harbor-style attack on America’s satellite constellations to convince the Senate to fund a space force in the same way it took 9/11 to generate a serious response to what was then the growing scourge of terrorism.

A robust space force that is detached from the other branches is the only way effectively to defend our satellites. In order to achieve the mission goal of preserving America’s long-held dominance in space, such a force will also require unconventional leadership willing to experiment with new methods of warfare. But for that to happen, Washington’s bureaucrats must wake up to the real threats we face and undertake to defend America in spite of their patent dislike for the man who happens to be president.

Washington’s Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party will be our undoing. Either we act decisively today or we risk a Pearl Harbor in space tomorrow.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

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America • China • Economy • Greatness Agenda • Infrastructure • military • Trade

Jones Act Ensures U.S. Military Dominance and Civilian Jobs

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America’s armed forces are the most powerful on earth. While other countries can boast significant ground forces and nuclear capabilities, the factor that separates the United States and places her at the top of the military food chain is the United States Navy.

With a total of 24 total aircraft carriers, 19 more than the next closest country (Italy), and as many as 15 more in the planning phases, a continued commitment to the conditions that fostered this extraordinary advantage in military mobility is crucial. That commitment begins with defending the Jones Act against the recent slew of off the mark critiques lobbed against it, especially in the wake of the devastating 2017 hurricane season and its effects on Puerto Rico.

Many on the Right, including noted columnist George Will, have attempted to marginalize the importance of the Jones Act. Will wrote in National Review that, “Spurious ‘national security’ concerns tend to descend into slapstick.”

On the contrary, the Jones Act is key to maintaining many economic and manufacturing advantages against an increasingly influential China. Just last year, China’s Tsingshan Group, the world’s largest steel manufacturer, struck a controversial deal with U.S.-based stainless-steel manufacturer Allegheny Technology Incorporated (ATI).

The deal came together quietly, with many American observers now looking for answers from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as to how and why a heavily subsidized Chinese company could receive such advantageous treatment. But to see China’s attempt to further deepen its influence and increase America’s dependence on its supply chain of raw materials should not come as a shock considering the massive trade imbalances and unchecked and repeated abuses in intellectual property theft, espionage, and cyber-crimes carried out by the Chinese against the United States in recent history.

At its core, the Jones Act mandates that all goods, including those needed to carry out military operations, must be transported by water between U.S. ports on U.S. flagged ships that are constructed in the United States and owned by U.S. citizens. They must also be manned by U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

That is a good thing for American workers in the shipbuilding, shipping, and general maritime industry as it protects their roles from the job-crushing outsourcing that exists in so many other industries.

The Jones Act also has positive effects elsewhere in the American economy. The Foundation of the U.S. Domestic Maritime Industry estimates the Jones Act contributes $100 billion to the economy, including $29 billion in annual wages as well as the creation of 500,000 jobs—one shipyard job is estimated to create four others across other corresponding industries in the economy.

It can be argued that in light of Tsingshan Group’s deal with ATI, perhaps some expansion of the Jones Act may be in order. If the worst-case scenario of a massive global conflict presents itself down the road, the United States faces a logistical nightmare should our opponent in any aggression be a country relied upon by the United States for the raw materials needed.

In other words, if China decides to “cut off” America in the case of total war, the United States would need to rely further on its domestic raw materials industry that saw an almost 5 percent spike in shipments in 2018 as a result of President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The issue of reliance on foreign production of raw materials should also receive increased scrutiny in light of last month’s cyber-attack against Norsk Hydro, a raw materials producer that boasts the 10th-largest output of aluminum in the world. The attack was carried out via ransomware known as LockerGoga.

Moreover, the importance of domestic raw materials production should also be highlighted as America eventually moves towards another round of major infrastructure spending. With the possibility of a $1 trillion bill materializing during the current legislative session, it would behoove the Trump Administration to keep the monies allocated for the raw materials needed to rebuild America actually in America.

Whether through ignorance or a lack of foresight, voices critical of the Jones Act have clearly missed the point.  Our national security needs are promoted by the Jones Act now more than ever.

Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post

David French Bungles Iraq, Again

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Aristotle said man is a rational animal. A more cynical observer might say he is a rationalizing one. Learning is hard enough on its own, but it is nearly impossible when personal biases cloud out clear thought.

Such is the case with David French, a senior writer at National Review. On the 16th anniversary of the Iraq War last week, French published a defense of that conflict. It isn’t surprising to see why. French himself served in Iraq as a judge advocate general (JAG). He lost friends there.

Admitting that such sacrifices might well have been in vain cannot be easy. But if we fail to confront honestly the failures that led to that war then we do them and future generations an even greater disservice. We must let pretty lies perish and face the plain truth: the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

French’s defense of the war rests on a weak foundation. He believes, contra John Quincy Adams, that America should go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

French notes that Saddam Hussein “invaded his neighbors, gassed his people, harbored and supported terrorists, and was responsible for not one but two of the largest conventional military conflicts since World War II—the horrific Iran-Iraq war and Operation Desert Storm.”

French continues, pointing out that Hussein was the “prime supporter” of a Palestinian bombing campaign against Israel and that he “violated the Gulf War cease-fire accords, interfered with weapons inspections, and hid away chemical weapons by the thousands.” French is correct: Saddam was a nasty dictator. But this world is full of such men. Is it really America’s sacred mission to rid the world of meanness?

French says “yes.” In doing so, he ignores the wisdom of America’s Founders.

For them, the American government existed to protect the lives and liberty of “ourselves and our posterity” not of random foreigners around the globe. John Quincy Adams, again, best sums up that older view in his 1821 Independence Day Speech where he states, “[The United States] is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Virtually all of the reasons French lists to decry Saddam have to do with violations of other people’s rights. Saddam gassed Kurds, butchered Iranians, and attacked Israelis. But these people are not Americans. They did not consent to our government. It is not right for American elected officials to spend the blood and treasure of their fellow citizens to fight on behalf of foreigners. To do so is to reject the natural rights theory of the American Founding.

The Iraqis did not consent to our rule. Nor did the American people consent to make them our fellow citizens. When French defends the Iraq war he argues for nothing less than American empire. Apparently, the United States must govern the earth for the benefit of our supposed allies, international norms, and the amorphous principles of liberal democracy.

French makes a stab at relating the Iraq conflict to American rights, but his arguments amount to little more than mushy pabulum. He writes that Saddam threatened “vital American interests” and actively sought to kill our fellow citizens.

But what exactly were these interests? Was Saddam going to stage an amphibious landing on our shores? Would we have run out of oil if he conquered Kuwait? And just how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis?

If French were simply an old veteran defending his service regardless of facts that would be one thing, but his arguments are a level worse.

French doesn’t just think invading Iraq was a good idea, he thinks we ought to have deposed the Assad family in Syria as well! This is mind-boggling folly. French writes that we should have removed Bashar al-Assad from power because his “nation was caught up in the unrest and ferment of the Arab Spring—a movement that began far from the Iraq War.” This unrest caused Syria to become a “charnel house,” created “a refugee crisis that has helped destabilize Europe,” and began a conflict with ISIS that “inspired a renewed wave of terror in Europe.”

Unbelievably, French blames all this on a lack of American intervention!

He is mistaken. It was Barack Obama who said of the Middle East in May 2011 that “America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region . . .” It was the American, not the Syrian government, that fomented the Arab Spring. And it was the United States that used military force in Libya to bring down Gaddafi, an action that helped open the floodgates of refugees fleeing the crisis that followed. Again in 2011 it was Obama who called for Assad to step down, an action that encouraged the chaotic civil war in Syria. Not only that but he endorsed a secret program to funnel money and weapons to the various rebel groups opposing the Syrian government.

That decision was a disaster. Bashar al-Assad might be a bad man, but ISIS was even worse. The Syrian government never rammed trucks through crowds of European Christmas shoppers. By stoking the Syrian civil war, the United States contributed to the chaos.

By opening their borders to an influx of legal and illegal migrants, the European nations exposed themselves to terrorist violence. French acts as if the Schengen Area and the open borders policies of politicians like Angela Merkel are simply mindless acts of nature, like hurricanes. The refugee crisis did not have to happen. The governments of Europe could have stopped it. Stupid immigration policy, not foreign dictators lie at the root of that disaster.

In the end, French’s endorsement of the Iraq war and intervention amounts to a foolhardy embrace of imperialism. Invading foreign countries to defend other people’s rights leads only to disaster. Starting wars that have no direct connection to our own security is likewise stupid. The Iraq war cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to no avail. A painful but useful lesson . . . if only we’d learn it.

Photo Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • Foreign Policy • military • Post

America’s Defense Establishment: Too Big to Succeed

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The United States has a problem: it has a military-industrial complex built on assumptions about international security dating from the last century.

Despite maintaining a larger defense budget than the next 10 countries behind it, the United States has been painfully slow to respond to the new, relatively cheap, threats of the 21st century. Our foreign-policy establishment continues to view today’s asymmetrical threats in 20th century terms. Doing so allows the defense establishment to remain within its proverbial comfort zone of large budgets, even larger bureaucracy, and highly-centralized authority in Washington, D.C.

America’s defense establishment today is a microcosm of the entropy befalling Western political institutions in general. The longer we fail to adapt to today’s various threats, the more unsafe we are. What’s more, the standard operating procedures that have defined American military policy are no longer applicable today. Like the defense establishments of Europe in 1914, our modes of deterrence are ill-suited for the new century.

Unlearning Lessons of the Past
As military historian Hew Strachan describes in his excellent 2003 book, The First World War, the way that European leaders in the run up to that conflict conceptualized the “Balkan Crisis,” and the way that the various defense establishments in Europe implemented their standard responses to that crisis—namely, the mobilization of military forces—actually precipitated the conflict instead of deterring it.

Before World War I, European militaries were able to construct a system for operating in a foreign policy crisis that matched the mobilization of armed forces with diplomacy. If a European state wanted to get the attention of one of their neighbors, and conventional diplomacy did not work, then that state would ramp up its military and make it appear as though they were readying for war. In Strachan’s assessment, mobilization “was a form of brinkmanship rather than a step in an inevitable escalation.”

But, Strachan observes, before 1914 the limited nature of communications and transportation technology in Europe meant that a crisis could play out over weeks and months, giving European leaders the time they needed peacefully to defuse a crisis. In 1914, unfortunately, “key decisions [on mobilization] were made in the space of one week.” Thus, the “pace of events was such that there was no time to clarify the distinction between warning and intent.” As a result, mobilization became conflict and the conflict became a world war in weeks.

Even those European leaders who did court war, such as Austria-Hungary’s chief of the general staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff, believed that such a conflict would be confined to the Balkans, the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand—the next in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne—and his wife were gunned down by Serbian nationalists.

In effect, Hötzendorff and the Austro-Hungarian leadership assumed they were fighting the Third Balkan War rather than initiating the First World War. But once the Austro-Hungarians initiated conflict, the massive warfighting bureaucracies of Europe went into action—relying on the standards and methods from the previous century, without taking into account how new technology and ideologies would affect their prescribed responses.

The Cold War Is Over
Similarly, the United States today has crafted a defense policy which is predicated on unchallenged assumptions from the Cold War and its immediate aftermath. America’s defense establishment, so large and unwieldy, cannot respond well to threats when enemies introduce unpredictability and chaos into the mix. We’ve done little to account for the advances in technology that define our age, and America’s rivals know this.

For example, today’s policymakers like fusing military brinkmanship with diplomacy—just as the 19th century European leaders did. This is certainly an important tool. But this concept has rarely been tested by Americans in a multipolar world that is replete with multiple nuclear-armed players.

What’s more, the conventions that previously defined Cold War-era relations do not necessarily apply today, just as the norms that dominated international diplomacy from the post-Napoleonic War era were not relevant by 1914. Radical and irrational actors who possess more threatening capabilities than they did in the past are now part of the equation. At the same time, strategic competitors have developed copious asymmetrical capabilities meant to stymie and stunt traditional American grand strategy.

Meanwhile, the American defense establishment continues making large investments in what are known as “legacy” systems—expensive and unwieldy platforms designed to fight yesterday’s wars.

In fact, America’s entire defense strategy is geared toward fighting yesterday’s conflicts (or worse, imagined threats that are unlikely to materialize). The reason the United States faces a threat environment today that similar to that of the 1930s is that Washington has not updated its institutions or priorities to better conform with the 21st-century climate. That world is defined by decentralized networks and high-tech capabilities that are wedded to pre-modern ideologies. Today’s threats are more diffuse and their capabilities are more finely focused, whereas America’s military capabilities are unfocused and far too expansive.

Dangers Near and Far
America’s present rivals are not directly threatening the United States with hard military power. Instead, they are developing unconventional methods of attack to confuse and sap America’s overwhelming strength over the long-term.

For instance, cyber warfare, space warfare, information warfare, economic warfare, competition for dominance over natural resources, terrorism, lawfare—using international law as a weapon to stop the United States from using military force—and nuclear weapons proliferation are the greatest threats the United States faces from abroad. Few of Washington’s expensive defense policies truly protect the United States from these threats.

Instead, the United States continues attempting to use its hard military power to roll back the various threats we face . . . to no avail.

Today, China is stronger than ever before. Russia has returned to Europe and the Middle East in force—while also expanding operations into Africa and Latin America. Pissant countries, like Iran and North Korea, continue to undermine American security. Meanwhile, the U.S. cannot defeat jihadist terror networks.

Rather than rely on standard operating procedures from the previous century, policymakers need to do more with less by focusing on building up our defenses against the asymmetrical forms of warfare. By relying exclusively on offensive, hard power, America’s national security“experts” will only precipitate future crises. And in today’s world, such crises could easily devolve into another world war—one the United States might not win.

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Administrative State • America • Center for American Greatness • Foreign Policy • military • Post

Switzerland’s Foreign Policy Should Be a Model for America

As I have written previously, many elites think of the United States as being in a position similar to that of the vulnerable Hapsburg Empire: a large empire possessing indefensible frontiers. But, this comparison flawed. In fact, a more precise analogue to the United States is Switzerland.

A federal republic like the United States, Switzerland enjoys a natural barrier separating it from the rest of its neighbors in Europe. The United States has two massive oceans, whereas Switzerland has the beautiful Swiss Alps. From behind these natural barriers, the liberty-loving Swiss republic formed, and by European standards, so did a potent market economy. Switzerland hasn’t always been a peaceful state, but it has been able to maintain peaceful relations with all of its neighbors better than most other states. Its beneficial geography has afforded Swiss leaders the time to develop reasonable, low-cost methods for maintaining their country’s sovereignty without becoming too enmeshed in the chaotic world beyond its protective peaks.

Switzerland is not an isolationist country, however. Like the United States throughout most of its history, the Swiss simply prefer to rely on diplomacy and trade to handle the bulk of their interactions with most of the world. Switzerland has a robust international trading profile and is even an observing member in the flagging European Union. That said, it is not a full member of the EU. Such a membership would have threatened the Swiss freedom of action and they wisely avoided such a step. The Swiss interact with the surrounding world only when and how it benefits them.

Switzerland is also internationally respected. Today, America’s acceptance of an ever-increasing array of never-ending foreign entanglements has drained it of vital resources (and people) that could be put to better use making our Union more perfect. Despite spending more than $700 billion on our national defense, America’s military leaders unanimously agree that we are more threatened today by rival states than at any other time since the 1930s—and our military readiness is nowhere near what it should be.

What’s more, even though America’s democratic globalist elite keeps reminding foreign audiences that American forces only go to war to “liberate” other people around the world, America’s prestige has been at historic lows since the George W. Bush Administration. Switzerland hasn’t gone to war for anyone’s freedom and yet they retain more respect than we do.

Crisis-Mongers and the Permanent War Party
Every decision in Washington is framed within the context of a time-crunching crisis in which all reason must be discarded and only the emotionalism of “doing the right thing” (according to the blinkered moral compasses the foreign policy elite) can be considered. Little discussion is given to restraint and balance in America’s foreign policy. And, when force is used, it is often done—as it was in Iraq—with little consideration about how force can best be used and without considering how American objectives most effectively could be achieved. Moreover, what are our objectives and how do they serve our interests?

Switzerland faces many of the same threats that the United States faces. Yet, the Swiss have managed to create a set of policies that protect their people, uses their favorable geography to their advantage, and ensures that the Swiss way of life is not sacrificed to the gods of war. No one believes the United States should seek to return to the isolationist tendencies of the 1930s (although, to be fair, the United States was never truly isolationist). The sheer size and scope of the United States—especially as compared to that of Switzerland—makes such a prospect impossible. Our country is a continental superstate and will always be more involved globally than a smaller country in northern Europe.

Even so, few can credibly argue against the notion that American forces have been stretched too thin around the world, thereby weakening the United States and making it more vulnerable to a devastating attack.

Not Isolationist, But Pragmatic
Uncle Sam cannot keep up the pace of recent years and continue entering blindly into foreign conflicts without clearly defined and achievable objectives that are in American interests. What’s more, many other states and entities now exist that have the capabilities required to take on more global responsibilities, and very often these states have more directly involved interests. There is also now a collection of countries who openly disagree with American foreign policy preferences and, if pushed by America’s feckless democratic globalists, will court conflict with the United States, in order to ensure that America’s foreign policy preferences are not made into international standards.

In essence, America needs to stop trying to do everything for everyone. There are others, like the European NATO members, who could help if we would let them. And, when disagreement arises, there are others who could make things very difficult for America in the world, if Washington were thoughtlessly to attempt to throw its weight around instead of seeking to make deals with disagreeable, but nevertheless, existing actors.

Thus, American policymakers must focus their energies on plugging strategic gaps that have formed in the country’s defenses. In today’s highly competitive world of many great powers, strategic defense is America’s best asset. Therefore, space defense, better cybersecurity, an increase in economic and financial warfare capabilities; public diplomacy, and a better understanding of what’s known as lawfare—a form of war in which an enemy uses the legal system against their foe, potentially slowing down their rival’s ability to use force.

All of  these are important areas for Americans to build their defenses. Where defense is impossible, then, the threat of massive retaliation comes into play. And, whatever Blofeld-like threats Vladimir Putin has recently issued about his purported hypersonic missile capabilities, no country today matches the destructive capabilities of the United States. Due to this, massive retaliation is a viable fallback position for most American policymakers, should our other, less destructive defenses fail the country. But this capability will mean nothing if we are not perceived as serious about using it and we can’t be perceived as serious if we rely too heavily upon it.

The objective must be to fuse America’s fortuitous geography with a greater degree of strategic restraint while at the same time believably defending American security and interests—at the lowest cost to the American people as possible. Therefore, a worldview more closely resembling the Swiss idea of restraint, self-interest, and realism is needed. Only then will the United States protect its core national interests without squandering its vast—but finite—resources and vaunted prestige on wasteful endeavors.

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Center for American Greatness • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • North Korea • Post

North Korea Has Probably Weaponized Space Already

Now that the rapprochement between the United States and North Korea appears to be on hold, the North Korean military threat will have to become a focus of the Trump Administration yet again. At the moment, the world fixates on North Korea’s nuclear threat. Few, however, talk about North Korea’s space program.

Keep in mind that a country which possesses a nuclear weapons capability also has the capacity to build a space program. Pyongyang has already conducted a series of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches that have stoked fears in the West about North Korea’s growing capability. Of course, North Korea claimed that these were launches of civilian weather satellites . Yet, the satellite followed an odd orbit and did not appear to display any of the regular behaviors that innocuous weather satellites are expected to exhibit.

The satellite, dubbed KMS 3-2, with a NORAD tracking identification number of 39026, was launched on 12 December 2012. Many Westerners believed the launch of KMS 3-2 was a “veiled ballistic missile test.” It likely was. Those same analysts also assumed the “satellite” was just junk. Although, the fact that KMS 3-2 has remained in orbit for as long as it has, following an odd north-south orbital trajectory, indicates to some that the system just might be an unconventional weapon known as an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) bomb. To buttress these concerns, it is important to note that KMS 3-2 sits at an altitude of 280 miles above Earth, an optimal position for an “E-bomb.”

More troubling, on February 7, 2017, North Korea placed another “weather” satellite, KMS-4 (NORAD tracking number 41332), in a north-south orbit. This occurred not long after Pyongyang successfully had tested a hydrogen bomb. The concern is that, like a Bond villain from the Roger Moore-era, Kim Jong-un is placing powerful electromagnetic pulse weapons in Earth’s orbit that he will one day use either to hold the West hostage or to attack us.

An EMP is a devastating blast of energy that destroys most electronics. First observed by scientists as far back 1859, it was not seen as a potential weapon until the infamous U.S. military Starfish Prime nuclear weapons test in 1962.

At that time, America detonated a massive nuclear warhead 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. The test damaged Hawaii’s electrical grid and telephones. That same year, the Soviet Union conducted a similar test in Kazakhstan, which started power plant fires in Karaganda. Since then, many more nuclear weapons states have arisen. And, as two Russian generals warned American leaders in 2004, Moscow sold Russia’s “super-EMP warhead design” to North Korea.

Lights Out, Mass Casualties
There’s also further reason for concern. By placing their satellites in a north-south orbit, as opposed to the usual east-west orbital path, North Korea has complicated the ability for American radar and ballistic missile defenses both to track and to destroy such weapons. After all, the American radar network was designed to detect incoming nuclear weapons launched from the former Soviet Union. Such launches would have followed an east-west direction. Washington possesses limited capabilities to track and shoot down an attack from a north-south orbit.

Speaking to a group of tech executives in Silicon Valley in 2017, I cautioned that Pyongyang might have placed a dormant electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon in orbit of Earth. Such a move would be in keeping with both North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. It would also coincide with Pyongyang’s commitment to developing asymmetrical forms of warfare meant to negate America’s overwhelming military supremacy.

In 2008, a special commission released a report on the threat of an EMP attack to the United States. The commission, formed shortly after 9/11, outlined a broad scope of vulnerabilities. Yet little has been done to better defend the United States. For example, the EMP Commission assessed that such a weapon detonated in orbit above the continental United States would knock out all power and advanced technology, effectively sending the United States back into the 19th century. The commission also determined that for a rogue state like North Korea, developing such a capability could be strategically useful to Pyongyang. Further, upwards of 90 percent of the American population could be killed off in the course of two years following a large-scale EMP attack due in part to massive disruptions in food production and distribution. Two years is the minimum amount of time it would take to restore America’s destroyed electrical grid and replace critical technology.

Of course, many national security analysts question whether North Korea has the capability to place such a system in orbit. In 2016, Peter W. Singer of New America said that these fears are “a joke” among “serious” national security practitioners. Physicist and State Department foreign affairs officer during the Obama Administration, Yousaf M. Butt, believed that the North Koreans lacked the sophistication to place a weapon large enough in orbit that could knock out the North American power grid.

But, many of these same “experts” would have laughed at anyone who, until September 12, 2001, claimed that al Qaeda would launch the most devastating surprise attack on the United States in its history—using only box cutters and fake explosives. Never doubt a desperate and dedicated foe, such as North Korea.

No Viable Defense
Meanwhile, in 2017, the North Koreans successfully tested a thermonuclear weapon—the kind of weapon that’d be needed to effectively send America back into the pre-electrical age. Plus, Pyongyang has possessed miniaturization technology for years, meaning that they could have conceivably created such a weapon and placed it in orbit.

Then again, the North Koreans would not even need to place a potent thermonuclear device in orbit to do damage to the United States. A smaller-yield nuclear device detonated in orbit could send an EMP burst that would destroy America’s critical satellite constellations, rendering American forces around the world deaf, dumb, and blind—and possibly sowing chaos here at home.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the national security establishment has tried to anticipate the next unconventional attack. Should President Trump be unable to revive the diplomacy with Kim, any conflict with North Korea could begin with a North Korean surprise EMP attack from space. America currently has no viable defense against such an attack. The Trump Administration must not only ensure that a space force is created to better defend the United States from a space-borne attack, but that a real space-based missile defense program is undertaken before it is too late . . . if it’s not too late already.

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Center for American Greatness • Deterrence • Donald Trump • military • Post

Space Force Takes One Step Forward, Two Back . . . Again

In the October 15, 2018 edition of Strategika I wrote: “Three cheers for President Trump’s decision to add a Space Force to the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard.” I was enthusiastic because, “though the logic of war and technology has long counseled establishing a U.S Space Force, the logic of military bureaucracy has forestalled it. . . .For human beings to turn any technology’s potential to military effect, those who really want to do it must be in a position to make it happen . . .  that is why establishing the U.S Space Force is no mere rewiring of bureaucratic diagrams.”

But the directive that formally establishes that force, which Trump signed last Tuesday in response to bureaucratic and corporate resistance, is nothing more than a dysfunctional rewiring.

Specifically: though dominance of orbital space has become ever more vital to all other military functions, as well as for protection of our satellites and for defense against ballistic missiles, U.S. space policy has been in the hands of the Air Force, which has regarded what happens in space as subordinate to its traditional missions and—to say the least—has not made a priority of either satellite warfare or missile defense.

Establishing the U.S. Space Force was supposed to change all that. It won’t. Trump’s words notwithstanding, the directive he signed reaffirms the Air Force’s control over orbital space matters.

At the February 19 signing ceremony, Trump said, “With today’s action, we will ensure that our people are secure, our interests are protected, and our power continues to be unmatched.  There will be nobody that can come close to matching us.  It won’t be close.”

In reality, the directive simply places the Space Force under an undersecretary of the Air Force and elevates the chief of the Air Force’s space command to membership on the Joint Chief of Staff with a new title. There are no new goals or programs, as they would disrupt the Pentagon’s existing budget priorities and meddle with defense contractors’ investment in current programs. As Trump respected their priorities and walked back his original intention, he emptied his words of meaning.

The Battlefield Above
It is impossible to imagine any major war’s operations henceforth without competitive destruction of satellites. Russia and especially China have programs that aim not just at using orbital space, but at ensuring their own use of it and denying it to others. Their capacities for satellite destruction are greater than ours. For a variety of tactical reasons, their needs for satellite protection are not as great as ours.

Protecting our satellites is a challenge we have not begun to address. While hardening satellites may protect them against the necessarily weak flux from ground-based lasers, no satellite can be protected against a megawatt laser firing through unobstructed space, or against kinetic kill vehicles. Nor can satellites be safeguarded by escorts. Hence, protecting satellites requires preventing threats to them from reaching space in the first place. That is what space control means. Our lack of capacity for space control, the fact that we are not seeking it even as China and Russia reach for it, makes it impossible to design serious military operations against them.

Because orbital space is the highway for ballistic missiles and because controlling orbital space was supposed to have been the U.S. Space Force’s reason for being, it might have become the advocate for missile defense within the government. After all, efficient operation of our minimal surface-based missile defenses requires orbit-based fire control systems. Anything like preclusive defense against missiles requires satellites, whether kinetic or laser, that can control an enemy’s access to space. We don’t have such things, and are not about to get them.

Vulnerable As Ever
Trump’s introductory words last month notwithstanding, the latest missile defense boondoggle commits America to zero defense against “large and technically sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile threats to the U.S. homeland.” The program simply sticks with programs that are making America vulnerable even to North Korea. The Space Force might have been expected to remove missile defense from the reach of the Air Force, which has long stood in its way.

But the document that Trump signed on February 19 places the Air Force more firmly in a bureaucratic blocking position than ever. Because the Air Force’s corporate interest opposes what conflicts with its traditional activities, our defense programs will continue on autopilot. Our satellites and America itself will be as vulnerable as they have ever been, words notwithstanding.

After meeting last year with Kim Jong-un, Trump exulted that he had secured an agreement to denuclearize North Korea. In his State of the Union this month, he changed the subject. Stopping an imminent war had been his achievement. Prior to his scheduled meeting with Kim for the second time in Vietnam this week, Trump switched goal posts again: ”We hope we’re going to be very much equally as successful . . . We just don’t want testing.”

Words are flexible. Reality, not so much.

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America • Center for American Greatness • China • Donald Trump • Infrastructure • military • Post

The Space Force Is No Laughing Matter

Steve Carrell is set to star in a new comedy for Netflix called “Space Force.” Dubbed by the show’s creators (Carrell and British comedy writer-producer Greg Daniels) as “‘The Office’ in space,” the buzz surrounding the show has been electric. As a diehard fan of “The Office” (particularly during the Steve Carrell years), I am sure that the show will be entertaining. Yet as a space policy analyst, I cannot help but be worried about the implications of this series.

Let’s face it: most people don’t care about space. Many Americans understandably are more concerned about issues they think have more to do with life on this planet, like putting food on the table. To them, space is just a distant and desolate place whence colorful pictures originate but not much else.

When I worked on Capitol Hill, several members of Congress routinely would respond to my pleas for a greater focus on space issues with classic American ambivalence: “Who’s going to spend money on that?”

It was only a matter of time before space moved from its revered place in the American imagination, to the transitory position of an “out-of-sight and out-of-mind,” “been there, done that” irrelevance. Foolishly, but understandably, Americans now feel comfortable laughing  at what we once called the “Space Age.” Unfortunately—to paraphrase what Trotsky once said of war—you might not be interested in space, but space is interested in you.

More accurately, the Chinese (along with the Russians and several other malign actors) increasingly are interested in space at a moment we are not.

So, what’s the big deal? Why can’t we just take the comedic route and laugh at the cosmos while we wallow in the mud down here?

Put simply, much of what we do “down here” depends very much upon what we can do “up there.”

Today, the United States relies disproportionately on space-based systems—satellite constellations—more than any other country. Nearly every electronic signal that keeps our advanced society functioning passes through space. This has advanced our society, to be sure, but it has also made us vulnerable. America’s enemies, while they too are becoming reliant on satellites, are still nowhere near as dependent on them as we are. This provides a key strategic opportunity to any adversary willing to exploit it.

And, the Chinese are planning to do just that.

Should a conflict erupt between the two sides, the Chinese have plans to disrupt and destroy American satellite constellations critical to our defense. By rendering American forces (and, potentially, the civilian sector as well) deaf, dumb, and blind, the Chinese hope to make the United States nothing more than a hapless giant on Earth, allowing them to achieve a surprise victory over our armed forces.

Further, the Chinese recognize the potential limitless value that space offers their economy. To maintain the “Chinese economic miracle,” their economy requires resources. China has spent decades gaining access (and, in some cases, monopolies) over crucial albeit limited natural resources and rare minerals. Wherever there are natural resources on Earth—even in Antarctica—the Chinese are making bold moves to capture them. They are taking the same logic to space.

Right now, China has deployed the Chang’e-4 lunar rover on the dark side of the moon. They’ve made history for having placed the first manmade object on that previously unexplored part of the moon. The goal is to collect samples of the lunar soil and to run a suite of experiments, such as growing cotton seeds on the moon.

While the Chinese are engaged in a scientific endeavor, they have ulterior motives with their lunar exploration program: Beijing wants to figure out if a manned lunar mining colony would be viable. If such an undertaking is deemed feasible by Beijing, Chinese personnel, mining equipment, and weapons inevitably will land on the lunar surface with as much dedication as Chinese forces have expanded illegally into the South China Sea, in some cases creating whole new islands.

It’s believed that the world’s first trillionaire will come from the nascent space mining sector. Not only would dominating space provide China key economic advantages over its rivals on Earth, it would also provide Beijing with critical strategic dominance over the United States. China could threaten American satellites; it would benefit disproportionately from the technology boom that would follow its massive investment in space development; and Beijing could also place strategic weapons in orbit, blockading access to nations China dislikes.

China’s investment in their robust space program has been smaller than the American investment into space. Although, the Chinese investment is better focused on projects that would yield tangible, military, economic, and scientific advantages. At a time when an integrated, strategic approach to space policy is needed in the United States, the American people are given anything but.

The Trump Administration (like many of its predecessors) talks big about space. But in terms of action, it has little to show. Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Chinese effort continues apace with their advanced plans for dominating space—and us.

The president’s space force idea is not new—and it should be taken seriously. But because everyone hates Trump in the media, in academia, and in the government, the concept will be marginalized and ultimately abandoned. While the “creatives” in Hollywood give Americans a comedic view of space and of those who would take it seriously, the Chinese people are reinforced in the belief that it is their rightful place to take space and hold it.

As time goes on, America’s dithering over a meaningful space policy will leave this strategic domain—the ultimate high ground—open to whichever country has the gumption to take it.

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Center for American Greatness • China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • military • Post • Russia

Trump Notwithstanding, U.S. Deploys Only Words Against Missiles

Official Washington has refused to defend America against ballistic missiles, especially from Russia and China, while spending some $300 billion pretending to be trying. For a half century, it has dissembled its intention with techno-speak. On January 17, however, President Trump released the Pentagon’s long internally disputed Missile Defense Review (MDR) with words that might be summed up as, “This time, for sure!”

Said Trump: “First, we will prioritize the defense of the American people above all else.” Wow. Goodbye Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger. Strike one.

And then: “The United States cannot simply build more of the same, or make only incremental improvements.” Strike two.

Finally: “My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer . . . Regardless of the missile type or the geographic origins of the attack, we will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above.” Home run!

Most media accounts, and Democrats, took Trump at his word. But whoever fights his way through the MDR’s 8,000 words of bureaucratese, written by people who failed freshman composition, will find no fundamental changes in current policy. It’s a fair bet Trump did not read it.

Tinkering With a Horse-and-Buggy System
The most fundamental of questions—the one that McNamara and Kissinger “settled” with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty before most people reading this were born—is that the U.S government should not even try to defend America against Russian and Chinese missiles, but it may try defending against “theater” threats. The Trump MDR reaffirms their settlement: “While the United States relies on deterrence to protect against large and technically sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile threats to the U.S. homeland, U.S. active missile defense can and must outpace existing and potential rogue state offensive missile capabilities.” Color that no change.

In practice, this long-standing posture has meant the U.S government has not built anything that, even in the pursuit of safety against such regimes as North Korea, would stop significant numbers of missiles from Russia and China. Trump said we would not “build more of the same or make only incremental improvements.” But the MDR mentions only one actual homeland defense measure: an additional 20 ground-based interceptors located exclusively next to the other 40 at Fort Greely in Alaska. They would be improved, and have access to improved warning sensors.

But the basic approach is unchanged from the 1950s. Trump’s words notwithstanding, the only real novelty is that this horse-and-buggy system will be given a genetically modified horse on steroids and carbon-fiber buggy wheels.

It’s not as if those in charge of U.S missile defense don’t know what makes the biggest difference between horse-and-buggy interceptors and effective ones. All of them know that it’s whether you can launch the interceptor before the target comes into view of surface-based radars. The MDR mentions in passing that “Russia maintains and modernizes its longstanding strategic missile defense system deployed around Moscow, including 68 nuclear-armed interceptors [meaning launchers that are loaded and reloaded from underground], and has fielded multiple types of shorter-range, mobile missile defense systems throughout Russia.”

Distant Early Warnings
Why ever do the Russians—whose students outrank ours in math and science—think that these masses of interceptors, which are not nearly as sophisticated and expensive as ours in Alaska, can protect against intercontinental missiles? Because their less-than-ideal interceptors are targeted by the faraway radar systems that also provide early warning. And the interceptors are located close to the places to be defended.

Unifying warning and targeting is the key. Putting nukes on the interceptors also helps, because it relieves the exquisite, failure prone, and prohibitively expensive hit-to-kill technical requirements that we have imposed on ourselves.

Since America is mostly surrounded by oceans, and the missiles coming at us would be coming from places inland in Eurasia, the only way for us to unify early warning and targeting in a forward location is to do so in orbit. And it isn’t as if we don’t know how to do it. A program to do just that (SBIRS-low) was canceled in the 1980s when arms controllers pointed out that it contradicts the 1972 ABM Treaty’s provision against “substituting” for surface-based radars. But oh, look! The 2019 MDR states that research is ongoing into systems that, someday, might let us do that. Don’t hold your breath. The deep state does not want that, including the defense contractors who, naturally, don’t want to jeopardize current programs.

Vulnerability Remains Policy
Because the deep state rules, all proposals for novelty get translated into putting fancier lipstick on the same pigs. Missile defense advocates have ever touted “boost-phase defense”—shooting down missiles just after they are launched, and “space-based missile defense,” by which they usually mean the same thing. The MDR embraces boost phase, even saying some of it will be done by lasers! And Trump trumpeted the latter—almost certainly sincerely. But read the fine print.

The MDR wants to do research into lasers small and light enough to be carried on stealth drones and, with a power supply sufficient to ensure missile kills at a distance greater than 100 miles thanks also to sophisticated systems for countering atmospheric distortion.

Leave aside the absurdity of permanently stationing drones over the territory of a non-idiot enemy. Fact is, this is the third time (first was the Edward Teller’s Free Electron Laser, second was the Air Force’s Airborne Laser lab) that the taxpayer’s pocket has been picked to the tune of some $3 billion for countering high-power lasers’ atmospheric distortion by ex post facto mirror adjustments. No technology can make that possible.

Even crazier, the MDR proposes hovering F-35 fighters near enemy launch sites to shoot down the missiles. Even if they could survive in areas defended by Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, how many planes and what infrastructure would be required to keep one plane in the air 24/7 for more than a couple of days?

As for the MDR’s promise of research into space-based interceptors, note first that this is research rather than building anything. Second, one may ask what the research is meant to uncover, since space-based interceptors have been feasible in one form or another since the late 1960s. Third and most revealing, the MDR specifies that, were space-based interceptors deployed, they would be used strictly to counter threats from such as North Korea and Iran.

Vulnerability to Russia and China remains U.S. policy, notwithstanding the words of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. Someday, some president will take his own words seriously. Meanwhile, don’t attempt to kick that football!

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